In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.I've been holding out for this one for what feels like forever. My library system doesn't allow for interlibrary loans within the first six months of a new publication and my branch almost never purchases comics or graphic novels. After what felt like forever, I was finally able to place a hold on a copy at another branch and have it sent to me via ILL. It's been nominated for/won a ton of prestigious awards, so I was anxious to have my turn with it.
When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the "crazy closet"--with predictable results--the tools that had served Roz well through her parents' seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.
While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies--an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades--the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.
I'm so glad that I kept track of this one and got my hands on it as soon as I could because it is just so well done. I fell in love with Chast's parents and their quirks and foibles, and fell equally in love with Chast herself. My parents aren't as old as Chasts, but I do recognize many of her dilemmas in caring for them as something that I will one day need to deal with - and also see in the care of my grandparents.
One thing that sets Chast's experience apart from my own is her fraught relationship with her parents throughout her entire life. Her parents seemed ambivalent about her presence in their lives and, her mother in particular, was overbearing and controlling, while her father dealt with many anxieties and fears. I was fascinated to see the way these family dynamics played out in Chast's own feelings and emotions regarding providing intimate care for parents who didn't always care well for her as a child.
I was, in particular, shocked to read that Chast worried about the cost of her parents' care and its effect on her inheritance. I'm not sure if the close nature of my family or the fact that no one has any significant wealth to distribute plays a role, but I found myself both appalled and intrigued by Chast's forthrightness regarding her issues surrounding the inheritance money. While it's not something I could identify with or truly sympathize with, I thought it was brave for her to include something so personal in her memoir, knowing that it might be seen as cold-hearted. I appreciated her honesty in presenting all of her emotions, not just the caring, loving ones.
I definitely recommend this one and hope that if you read it, you'll let me know so we can discuss!