Friday, December 19, 2014

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Roz Chast is best known as a cartoonist and illustrator. With Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? she establishes herself as a gifted memoirist. She employs her characteristic cartooning style, handwritten text, photographs, and drawings to convey the pain and absurdity of the years preceding her parents' deaths.

Her parents were well into their 90s and still living in their apartment in Brooklyn when her mother Elizabeth fell off a ladder and was hospitalized for two weeks. Although Chast knew her father was suffering from dementia, the separation from his wife made the extent of the problem even more clear. Still, however, her parents refused to consider moving until her mother suffered another fall and her father got lost in the building while looking for help.

Chast moved her parents to an assisted living facility--The Place--near her home. She suffered the challenges of cleaning out their apartment and helping them settle into the new setting--and then watched first her father and then her mother die. Chast is incredibly forthright about the range of emotions she experienced during this process--forthrightness that can only help others going through similar experiences that they are not alone, nor are they crazy or evil!

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a remarkable book about the end of life as seen through the eyes of the caretaking child of the dying. Chast can make you laugh and cry simultaneously while stunning you with her painful and admirable honesty. Highly recommended.

Favorite passage:
I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly "done," there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you become addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you've had it with everything else.

After my father died, I noticed that all the things that had driven me bats about him--his chronic worrying, his incessant chitchat, his almost suspect inability to deal with anything mechanical--now seemed trivial. The only emotion that remained was one of deep affection and gratitude that he was my dad.

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