Book Review: “Unflinchingly, and with gallows humor,” cartoonist Roz Chast “examines the untidiness of life’s end.”

Cant-we-talk-about-243x366I was talking with a friend the other day, and we both laughed ruefully to remember when a relative was nearing the end, a fact that terrified all their friends. The favorite phrase, when contemplating some kind of change: “But what if something happens?

In other words, but what if the person, who is clearly dying, does? But we don’t talk about that. Not in this culture.

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast does. And it’s high time someone did.

BTW: interesting that the very day I discover the new Roz Chast memoir —

LA Review of Books: Cremains of the Day

— I receive the latest photo of our nearly 96-year-old Mom, still in Louisiana with sister Paula, and while slowing, and with dementia, and needing more and more care as time goes on, is still up and around with either walker or wheelchair.

The rest of us wonder how long Mom will live, and especially, we wonder how long Paula will be able to care for her (nearly full-time, though she does have care people come in twice a week for an afternoon)? I have a feeling that if Mom was to go into a nursing home, that she would die within a week. She just wouldn’t like it there. Is so used to being treated as Lady Renee.


Sister Kathy is there now. Here she is with the Garden Tower we planted back in March.


Here’s Paula, looking remarkably well, given her monumental 24/7 commitment. You can only barely imagine her seven siblings’ eternal (and astonished) gratitude . . .


Sister Marnie and her husband visit at the end of next week. Brother John soon after that. All from Seattle. Dad’s been gone now nearly two years. Paula has been Mom’s caregiver in her home for the past year. Day to day living includes morning bad moods, a “Hello, Ben” to Dad’s photo every time she passes it in the hall and then, like clockwork, to Paula, “Isn’t he handsome?” Also, diapers, lots of them, 24/7 — and accidents. She has to be helped to do everything. She has to be reminded — of whatever, continually. Some things she can no longer do at all. She gave up exercise awhile ago, so her legs are weakening.

None of us expected Mom to live this long. But hey? Who are we to understand the mystery of another’s trajectory?

BTW: Chast extolls the virtues of morphine to ease the active dying process.. I concur with that assessment. After a prolonged struggle, when our doctor dad finally accepted a few tiny doses of morphine, on August 30 2012 he was finally able to relax and let go.


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1 Response to Book Review: “Unflinchingly, and with gallows humor,” cartoonist Roz Chast “examines the untidiness of life’s end.”

  1. Ann i am 4th of 8 children and my dad will be 95 this november. he is not quite as helpless as your mom. no diapers yet, still walking some but legs weak. He still can’t believe he is alive. He can still carry on a good conversation and lives semi-independently in a retirement center 2 bdrm apt. He loves it there and 3 of my sibs live nearby and share the caregiving. My one brother takes him to mass every sunday. so happy that he can live in this way where he is not too dependent on any one person. So happy that your sister can help your mom. Some day it will be us…still hard to believe. thanks for all your interesting writing. Lots of love-Mary

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