Friday, January 29, 2016
I actually read two graphic novels - Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and Displacement...what I thought...
I am not much of a graphic novel reader. I've read a few - mostly YA type. I did spend a big portion of my growing up years reading comics (what they were called then). They all belonged to my little brother and were Archie and Spiderman and Flintstones and Fantastic 4, for example. I have been encouraged to read today's graphic novels many times by others. Recently, I decided to try two that told the stories of 'dealing with older people'. Both had been recommended by many bloggers and I have certainly spent my years 'dealing with older people'. There was a special display at my library and there they were - the two books - Displacement and Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? - side by side. I checked them out. (And forgive me, because this may be a little long.)
First, let's talk about Displacement - a graphic novel by Lucy Knisley. Only 168 pages, it can be read in a very short period of time. It's the story of Lucy, who volunteers to accompany her 90+-year-old grandparents on a cruise to the Caribbean. Lucy herself was in her 20's. OK, to start our little discussion, let me talk about Kay and motion sickness. I have it. It's horrible. When I travel, I am drugged. It's particularly bad on boats. (I got sick one time on a tour of a boat permanently docked in Astoria, Oregon. There were no windows. I quickly exited before things got too awful.). So, honestly, a cruise with grandparents????
Anyway, Lucy and her grandparents fly to Florida and board a cruise ship. The grandparents have a pretty decent room. Hers has no windows. She learns on this trip how much care her grandparents actually need. She thinks about aging and dying and mortality. The grandparents seem to have a fairly good time. Lucy is a nervous wreck most of the time (welcome to caregiving). In the end, she's glad she went. And in the end, I was glad I read this book. Thumbs up.
On to graphic novel #2, Roz Chast's memoir of a late-in-life only child and her aging parents - both parents living into their mid-to-late 90's. It's called Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? and is Chast's no-holds-barred book about parents who didn't want to talk about aging, death, dying, getting sick, going to the hospital, going to the doctor, preparing for any of this, etc. And a daughter who had to deal with all of these things by herself.
I have two dear friends who both read this book and wrote about it on their blogs. One is Les at Prairie Horizons. Les was not a fan of this book at all and said so in her review. The other friend is Nan at Letters From A Hill Farm. Nan was a fan and also said so in her review. I thought about reading this book, decided against it, and now have read it. What do I think? Well, let me tell you...
I actually liked it very much - very much. It was honest and brutal and shocking - Roz's thoughts about her parents and the bother and worry and tiresomeness of everything. It was hard to read without cringing. It also had some very sweet and poignant moments. There were actual pictures of the author and her folks. There were pictures of the apartment the folks lived in and the stuff...oh, the stuff. There were stories about dementia and illness and ickiness. About kindness and caring and grief. Descriptions of assisted-living and sad tales of parents who saved and scrimped and did not indulge themselves at all and a daughter who worried constantly that the money would run out. Because end-of-life care is so, so very expensive.
I think that one of the most important books I've ever read is Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. I read this last year and it talks about medicine and doctors and end-of-life decisions and how long is too long and hospice and care centers. And planning. I think that a companion book to the non-fiction Being Mortal could be this one - Chast's memoir - brutal as it might be - shocking and sad.
So, lastly what I want to say is that I liked this book and I hated it a little too. Why? I've lived this book. I've thought virtually every thought that Roz Chast shared. My relationship with my parents was much better than hers - with my mother especially. However, caring for aging parents with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia as well as other tragic health problems is hard, hard work. Whether they live with you or not. Even if there is what seems like enough money to help them and keep them comfortable. It is soul-sucking and it will almost bring you to your knees. I see Chast's memoir as her therapy. I did my therapy in another manner, with a counselor and a flood of tears and grief and anger-acknowledgment. My care for my parents was a privilege and an honor and it was horrible and took over my life for several years. I loved them dearly and I sometimes wanted to run away and never look back. I think this book could say to the reader 'you're not a horrible person if you have some or all of these feelings'. You can still love them and feel a very heavy burden. I loved my parents and I miss them every day, but I don't miss that stress and worry.
Well, I'll stop now. I've read two graphic novels. I've been so touched by both of them. Graphic novels are certainly not the comic books of my youth. I'm glad I read them. Who could imagine that a book of cartoons could be so gripping? Last thing - do you have other suggestions for 'must read' graphic novels for me? Maybe not ones about aging parents, but other topics? Please leave me some recommendations. I'm willing to try them. And thanks.