Christmas 2008 John and I, unbeknownst to one another, gave each other the same present: a copy of Roz Chast's Theories of Everything, a collections of her cartoons. Throughout our marriage we have always had a subscription to The New Yorker. While John actually reads it, I skim for cartoons, and Roz Chast is simply brilliant.
Last year, as both of my parents were dying, this memoir of Roz Chast came out to great acclaim. Best review?
An achievement of dark humor that rings utterly true. (Washington Post)
So I bought copies for my sister, my brothers, and me. And then I coudn't read it. Until yesterday. I needed a book for the train and for waiting in medical offices. Something interesting which required little concentration. And I grabbed this book.
It is the brutally honest memoir of her parents' decline and deaths. And so much of what Chast writes about is exactly the path we too walked. The big difference? She is an only child, and my siblings and I had one another to bounce off of. There's that golden age where all is well with both of them. Then one incident happens. Which triggers another incident. The end of their independence signals the beginning of the loss of yours. Here's one of my favorite pages:
My parents were wonderful people. But my parents were both quirky. This sort of wonderful quirkiness is something Chast captures in both of her parents as well. I promise you that the following is actually a conversation my mom and I had when we were downsizing from their house in Chicago to "active senior living."
My parents were born in the 20's and lived through the Depression and World War II. These events shaped them. And Chast's parents too were a part of this generation.
It is no surprise that this book ends with the deaths of her parents. Chast is a sketcher, and she included sketches of her parents as they were actively dying. Grief counselor buddy Cecilia, who is only too familiar with death, commented that actively dying people get a "pointy" look. I was clueless until I saw this in my dad and then a few months later in my mom. Chast's sketches capture this "pointiness."
Reading this book made me relive in a good way the path my siblings and I walked with my parents. Like Chast, we are all so at peace with our parents' deaths. And now I realize the responsibility we have to our own children. We need to have these discussions about death and arrangements and finances and living wills and medical directives.
I think I am now ready to focus on sewing. And maybe a batch of poppy seed fig jam thumbprint cookies.