Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Read of An Uncertain Inheritance - Part 2

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey

Joanne D. Kiggins in her blog, WritingAfterDark, gave a real review.

The Kindle is really a great way to carry around a little library. I have this tendency to have several books under way at one time and this is kind of a nice way to have them with me all the time in a really small footprint. One thing that would be nice though would be a way to hide books already read. Maybe there is and I haven't found it. I guess I could delete the book because Amazon keeps a copy of the book online for you. I guess forever. Another thing would be to go directly to a bookmark if only one exists for a certain book instead of always seeing the list of bookmarks first.

Caring Across Borders: Aging Parents in Another County by Julia Alvarez (read January 28, 2008)

This story has elements that will be familiar to many caregivers. It is the story first and foremost of a family. There are four daughters and there are sibling issues but not so terrible. There's an older parent with Alzheimer's. There's a caregiver parent with medical problems herself. There's the daughters' husbands and children and careers and all the normal things of modern American life. The daughter's ages will be familiar, too.

And then there's the added elements of distance and culture and nationality. Because the parents move to the Dominican Republic from New York City right at the beginning.

There is also family loyalty that is exceedingly strong. It is something I understand and it is uniquely distinctive to this story.

Also I suspect the dynamics of 4 daughters is distinctive. The author even compares her own sisters with Little Women so it must have been prominent in her mind as well. It recalled me for my own mother's 3 sisters as they cared for both their father and their mother. In many ways the birth order issues were familiar to me.

One thread that I found interesting was the author's request of her parents for a benediction upon each parting. It is something she says she never would have requested when she was younger but it became important to her on the first parting and remained so afterwards. Perhaps it had something to do with faith but seemed more family cultural to me.

Did I like this one? Yes, I did like it. I liked this family and I liked reading about them and how they loved and cared for each other. I found inspiration with everyone of them.

I continue to wonder about the absence of faith in these stories. I find it so strange but it does remind me of most of the novels I read where no one prays and no one goes to church and only the nuts are religious. Or maybe it is me and where I live is so different than the rest of the world. Because here one's faith is just a part of everyday life.

Called Them Vitamins by Stephen Yadzinski (read January 28, 2008)

This is a very well written story that I found terribly sad. There's not a scintilla of evidence of faith anywhere that I saw just to cover that point up front.

I was interested immediately in this story because the parents were both musicians playing at symphony level. I find that interesting now because of my own Judy's playing. I thought at first that the mother might have Alzheimer's but it was the father that was ill and his illness would have been a good subject for Mystery Diagnosis.

The parents divorce and the mother moves to Atlanta while the symptoms are nearly missing. The divorce isn't explained but the boys long for home in Buffalo with dad and eventually find their way back.

Dad's symptoms worsen as the boys grow into young men. At the same time Dad's desire for independence increases. This strikes a chord with me for sure and I also know it will for many of my caregiver friends. There are other chords, too. One is about getting up in the middle of the night to pick dad up off the floor of the downstairs kitchen. Another is about all the things that the writer does to help his dad.

I thought the caregiving was too much for someone so young. And it was.

Oh, the vitamins are pain pills. The father calls them vitamins. The son has to open the containers for dad and places them in his brief case pockets.

No, I didn't like this one. It is a sad tale of sad people doing sad things and having sad things happen to them. Sad.

Ruth by Justine Picardie (read January 28, 2008)

There are some references to faith in this one early one: "... the disease ... was ... immune to prayers or pleas or medicine or miracles." It's a stretch I know.

This is a story about two sisters. One becomes ill and requires care and dies in the end. The other is the writer and she tells about the love she and her sister shared. She says up front that she is not sure she should be called a carer. But we, that is me and my caregiver friends, would all include her as a caregiver in our group.

She talks about some of the lesser discussed things of caregiving that she helped bring to the situation. Things like scheduling and transportation and paperwork and money and food her sister enjoyed and laughter. She says her sister taught her that "small pleasures can be as precious at the end of life as the big stuff." I liked that.

And she talks some about her "many failures" for which she still feels shame. I and my friends all know that one.

There's a place she writes about "other people's expressions of misery about her illness" and "ones who used to behave as if nothing was wrong, or tell her not to worry, their aunt's friend has survived breast cancer." We all know those feelings, too.

One unexpected part of this story is the sister's "disinhibited behavior"caused by a brain tumor. The chief symptom was rage. And there's a place at the end where she wants to give her sister her own strength but couldn't. All too familiar I think.

The end of the story includes hospice and pain and morphine and a lot of love and death.

I liked this story very much.

One thing I disagreed a little with was a statement near the end: "Because that's one of the things you learn about caring: it's huge, but it doesn't work miracles, despite being miraculously limitless." Caregiving is huge and it does not work miracles itself. But in my own caregiving I experienced so many miracles I really couldn't write them all. I don't mean I had anything to do with them but had God withheld His miracles from me I would not have survived. And my caregiving was not limitless. In fact I found my limits to be absurdly narrower than I first thought. Again it was God Who got me through.

This is a really sweet story, especially for sisters.

Notes on Accepting Care by Andrew Solomon (read January 28, 2008)

No faith in this story.

It's about the writer's depression and his own father's care for him during this particularly bad time. At the start there's a part about his mother's illness and his own role in caring for her and the way he felt about his father and his mother and himself. Really good treatment of depression which I suppose is not surprising given the author's credentials.

One thing that bothered me a little was his admission that he really resented his father's asking him for help with his mother during her illness. He was 25 then. That's younger than my son but I wonder if my son resents my asking and expecting and getting his help during my own parents' illnesses. I think my son was okay with it but this essay made me wonder about it.

He describes his father's "lack of ambivalence" regarding the care of his wife and the author's mother. The father wasn't ambivalent about taking care of his son later on either. That struck me though because that's the way my dad was and I remember thinking about that early on when I came to live with my parents.

Liked the father in this one a lot. Liked the writing.

The Baby by Anne Landsman (read January 28, 2008)

She's the baby of the family. The family is one of those where the parents squabble but hang together and there's very little expression of affection and love. She and her siblings leave South Africa for the United States and her parents remain. Her father is a country doctor and her mother manages the practice.

There is religion in this story. They are Jewish for one thing and then a Jesuit Priest plays an important part towards the end. I find no faith here.

I think it is a story that deals with the struggle of relationship between a child and parent and a child and aging parents and finally a child and a dying parent. And there's a "sandwich" issue that I found important and touching.

I did like it and I find it troubling in a way. I'm not sure exactly why it is troubling but it and the previous one kind of hang with me right now.


nancy said...

thank you for sharing your reactions to these stories. i'm enjoying them. i reserved the book from my library yesterday. hopefully i will get a call soon saying i can come pick it up.

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Good thoughts on these, Terry. I'm anxious to read what you think of the remaining essays. You're doing a really great job here.

~Betsy said...

Terry - you must have been a reviewer in a past life. I'm only kidding, of course, but you are doing a very good job here.

I still haven't gotten the book. Shame on me. But I will soon - possibly this weekend. Thanks for your feedback.