My parents and I never discussed death . . .
March 3, 2014 6:32 PM   Subscribe

"Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" an upcoming graphic memoir from Roz Chast is excerpted in the New Yorker online.
posted by Obscure Reference (16 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Roz Chast is a national treasure.
posted by Danf at 6:41 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

As usual, charming. But why single out bocce balls for ire? Do Jews not bocce?
posted by Diablevert at 7:42 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah man. So spot-on. I would buy this.

What's really weird is having parents who are divorced, one of whom is living at "the place" (and yes, thinks it's a hellhole, sigh), the other of whom is totally together and with it, lives on her own, and is involved in like half a dozen different community music and art groups every week. Alas, they were not soulmates, so that's where their story diverges.

Funny thing is, I'm kind of thinking that my parent who lives at "the place" also had this notion that what would happen at "the end" would be that he'd just lie down at home, not feeling so well, and die in his sleep. Except it didn't really work that way. Instead, he lay down at home; woke up not feeling so well; got up and went to the kitchen; collapsed on the floor and, just like in the commercials, couldn't get up; called the fire department and let them prop him up on the couch and leave; slooowly slid off the couch onto the floor again; called me and left a few messages that didn't mention anything about the fact that he was, you know, on the floor; called his ex-wife and argued with her about what to do; and only then, after a couple of days had gone by, decided that since he wasn't dead, he should probably take her advice and get the fire department to come back and take him to the hospital. (Apparently one of the officers who came out the second time was pregnant, became totally grossed out by the grime that had accumulated in his house, and told him, "Sir, we can't be coming out here every time you want someone to prop you up on the couch!" Sigh.)

So that's when my policy of nonintervention re: the creeping grime in my father's house came back to bite us. Like the writer, I had noticed the grime when I'd visited a couple months before that, and I'd realized he was in something of an untenable situation, living by himself and ordering in pizza a bit too often. (We would later find dozens of pizza receipts in his living room.) But I'd thought that we would have more time to convince him to move to a place; that if I moved his weights closer to the couch, he would find the will to yet again get himself back in shape; that if I just visited a little more often, I could stave off the inevitable...

Anyway, by the time he decided to get medical treatment for real, they couldn't really do anything about the latest stroke he'd had (No. 3—he'd refused to get treatment for his previous two strokes and had "rehabbed" himself at home in recent years, with diminishing efficacy). So he was in the hospital for about a week getting stabilized, then went on to rehab for a couple of months, and now he lives at "the place." And that is the story of how I came to know the world described in this memoir.
posted by limeonaire at 7:57 PM on March 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

I've read Chast's whole book, and as someone whose parents are in their increasingly infirm seventies, it was incredibly soothing to me. She normalizes it somehow; yes, it's terrible, but it happens, and it can be survived. Part of that may be connected to my ongoing appreciation for her work; although I've read similar stories, those neurotic little illustrations brought everything to a certain life that the others lacked.
posted by redsparkler at 9:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I mean, it was absolutely terrifying, but still, somehow, soothing.
posted by redsparkler at 9:45 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

This rang true about my grandmother's end of life. She lived on her own until she was 92, and then finally my parents got her into a care facility. The Simpsons often makes fun of such places, but for my parents (by then in their late 60's) it was vital.

She lived, by choice, far away from the family, and the final years were indeed grimy. It became even grimier when we had to move all of her possessions out of her dilapidated house.

The house and lot were sold, the house was demolished. It's just a bare lot right now, and it is very strange to consider this place with its gardens overlooking the sea, with the smell of honeysuckle in the summer, and the strange and exotic European smells, tastes, and thick accents in winter, is gone.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

That was wonderful. I cracked up...but it was also rang very true. I'm so happy there are writers like her, who are able to articulate those things that ordinary people (like me) can't, but that I/we so so so so so want and need to.

My grandma is in the "Goodie" stage right now, has been for a couple years. It's been a godsend for her to have a caregiver. I haven't felt guilty about us hiring Pam for a damn second because we *did* try to do that care-giving work, for years, and past a certain point it just wasn't -- couldn't be -- possible. The workload was too heavy and the relationships were too fraught. A "facility" isn't really an option for my grandma, but that's OK, because this has turned out much, much better than we had hoped/thought/feared. My grandma's in good spirits and living in a reasonably clean apartment and going out and doing things in the community reasonably often again! It's amazing how much of a difference one person can make.

Her caregiver is very all-American and wholesome, though, more so than my family is -- so instead of the guilt the writer talks about, with me it's more like, semi-embarrassment over all the things that are normal within the family but must look odd to an outsider. Pam is a cosmopolitan person and is nonchalant about all the zillion weird accents and foods and things going on with us, but I have a hard time believing that she's never thinking WAT. For example, last week, Pam and my grandma went to the specialty deli like usual, and when it turned out the deli had gotten a shipment of "the good headcheese" in, my grandma had to buy up a ton and drop it by (windfall!). Thinking about it though, we're probably the parochial ones in the first place -- unlike nonchalant Pam, my parents and I were all "ZOMG AND THEN WE SAW XYZ AND THEN ABC HAPPENED AND YOU'LL NEVER GUESS...!"after we visited Pam's home state of Indiana for the first time last summer, so...wtvrs. (In our defense, Indiana was fantastic).
posted by rue72 at 12:12 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Man, that wiped me out. Thanks for sharing it, Obscure Reference.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:48 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Guys guys guys. Where do the bocce balls come from? I swear nobody knows where we got our set.
posted by Quilford at 5:09 AM on March 4, 2014

I LOVE Roz Chast. She has captured this so perfectly.

My folks are in their seventies and they are a tight little unit. I just sent the link to my sister, who lives a mile from them and pretty much is the 'good daughter' in looking after them.

Life is a funnly old girl, isn't she? And so much of this is universal for all of us. (Substitute Bocce Balls for a Theramin.)

Now I have a book to look forward to!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:59 AM on March 4, 2014

I will take those Bocce balls, Roz.
posted by maryr at 7:16 AM on March 4, 2014

Jews on the West Coast do not bocce. I will not speak for Jews on the East Coast.

We are moving my in-laws into The Place in 35 days. It has been sheer hell and I have already done this twice with two grandmothers. Fortunately, while my grandmothers were physically disabled, neither had dementia. My father-in-law has Alzheimer's, is paranoid and angry and abusive and we're really in a place where we are taking things day by day. If he hits my mother-in-law, I'm not actually sure what we're going to do with him. We're trying neuraleptics. I think we're going to have to increase the dosage.

This is not anything close to fun, but bless Roz for making it funny.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:32 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

My little brother has given up a broader life in order to stay in the house with my 87-year-old mom and keep her home, in the only house she has known as an adult. The cold consolation is that it is right on the beach.

So, yeah, this hits pretty close.
posted by Danf at 8:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can't wait to read the full book.
posted by Legomancer at 6:37 AM on March 5, 2014

By the way, I just watched Nebraska last night (my husband got it from the Redbox), and oh my, it is just the perfect movie for anyone dealing with these sorts of things with their parents. It is so funny and sad and cathartic. If you liked Chast's stories and/or my father's comedy of errors described above, you should watch it.
posted by limeonaire at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2014

The woman from Nebraska played a dying grandmother on GIRLS.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:28 PM on March 7, 2014

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