After several months of waiting, my turn for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? finally came round. It was worth the wait.
You may already know what it is about. Chast’s parents were aging and she tried several times to talk to them about what they would want to do if something happened. Of course no one likes to think or talk about these sorts of things and trying to talk to your parents about it, especially when they don’t want to talk about it, is no easy thing. So Chast’s attempts went nowhere. And her parents continued to age and everything was fine until it wasn’t.
In their early 90s and becoming more frail, unable to keep the apartment clean and relying on a friendly neighbor to pick up things from the grocery store for them, it was only a matter of time before something happened. The call came at midnight. Chast’s mom had fallen while trying to stand on a ladder to change a light bulb. The fall had actually happened a few days before and she refused to go to the doctor. Nothing a little bed rest couldn’t fix. Until she couldn’t get out of bed. While Chast’s mom spent a few days at the hospital she had her father stay with her and her family. It was then she noticed her dad’s mental acuity was nowhere near what she thought it was. Her mom had been taking care of him and covering up just how bad he had gotten.
Thankfully, her mom was not seriously injured. But it was the beginning of the long decline. After more incidents Chast managed to convince her parents that they needed to move into assisted living. It was a nice facility where they had their own apartment and Chast, her husband and kids were nearby and could visit them frequently. Still, the parents did not go willingly.
The memoir is well told with humor and compassion. The art is cartoon-y but expressive. Chast’s story is the story of so many others that it is no surprise really why the book is so popular. I have family members who have had to take care of their aging parents. I have friends who are in the midst of taking care of theirs. It is not easy and our society doesn’t help make it any easier. Care facilities cost astronomical sums of money. Chast’s parents had scrimped and saved their entire lives and it only took a couple of years before they had nearly run through all their savings. Is that what we work all our lives to save for? Not retirement, but to pay for decent end-of-life care? And what happens when the money runs out? What happens if you have no one like Chast to look out for your best interests when you are not able to? It’s a scary prospect.
Growing old sucks. But the thing is, I don’t believe it has to. I don’t know how to change society and culture so that the golden years truly are golden right up to the last breath. But it is definitely something that needs to change.