Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Oh man, this book is like a punch in the fucking gut. I love Roz Chast. I have a big book of her cartoons (Theories of Everything), and I love to pick it up and just randomly flip through a few pages. I also methodically go through it sometimes and mark math-y comics that I can use on exams and handouts, because I’m that kind of professor.
I kind of knew what the book was about (caring for aging and dying parents). But wow, I didn’t know about the strained relationship with her parents and just how very, very hard it would be to read. In more ways than one.
I’ve read at least one other graphic novel memoir… Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (of Bechdel test fame). There was a lot of emotionally difficult stuff in that book as well, as there is in any memoir worth reading, but I enjoyed it a lot more. There are a couple of possible reasons for this:
(1) I got the Roz Chast book as an e-book (from the library), and it was just really difficult to read it digitally. Would it have been easier as a print book? I’m not convinced… at least I could zoom in a fair bit on the digital book, and I couldn’t have done that with the print version. More likely…
(2) Bechdel’s book relies a lot more on the pictures to communicate what’s happening, and is very text-light. Chast’s book is very, very text heavy. But since it’s a “graphic novel,” all of the text is in her comic-style writing. Reading whole pages (seriously, many many pages with no pictures and only hand-written text) like this is really difficult and not at all pleasant.
But even more than this, it was just so difficult to read the description of people dying so, so slowly. Just wasting away. One of the more painful parts:
She was sleeping a lot. She wasn’t eating much. She’d wake up and Goodie would give her an Ensure, and she’d go back to sleep…
My mother was existing in a state of suspended animation. She was not living, and not dying. She didn’t watch TV, read, go outside, play the piano, socialize, or even get out of bed. She slept, drank Ensures, got cleaned by Goodie or some other aide, and went back to sleep.
Now, I love to sleep. I mean, I loooooove to sleep. Naps? Love ’em! Sleeping in late? The fucking best!
But oh my god. To go on for years like this? Years? I just can’t even fathom it. Nothing left to enjoy. I love good meals. Cooking, dining out, going to the beach, reading books. Even watching TV. Yesterday I jumped up and down when Malcolm Butler made that amazing interception in the Super Bowl. Not because I cared that much about the outcome of the game, but because it was surprising! Imagine never ever being surprised or excited about anything.
I’ve read memoirs about people dying of cancer, but this… this really just eats away at me. How do you prevent this from happening? I mean, you see these amazing folks in their 90s who have done yoga all their lives and are still physically and mentally active. But it’s way too late for me to have done yoga all my life.
I thought I was one of those people who’s absolutely terrified of her own death. I mean, like I don’t even ever talk about it with anyone, not my husband even. And when thoughts of my own demise come into my head, I get freaked and then chase them away as fast as I can.
But now I have found something even more terrifying than my own death. Thanks Roz Chast! I think?