As we get close to Halloween, I often think about those relatives that are no longer with me. In Los Angeles, we have an unbelievable Day of the Dead celebration, and honoring family is central to that.
I got a comment recently from a reader who has her parents on her mind frequently as they are getting older, and this seemed to be a good time to honor family and how we take care of them.
Here’s the letter:
Dear Book Dr.,
Here’s a question (and you’ll recognise it!) – what books do you know, if any, fiction or non, about the experience of taking care of elderly parents and all that it means?
Helping as best I can
Thanks so much for your comment, and for bringing up this topic. This is something all of us will deal with eventually, if we’re lucky. I have friends who have lost parents far too young and it seems that either option can be quite a challenge.
While I haven’t lived through this experience with my own parents, I have experienced sudden illness with friends and helping to support my grandparents later on in life. Playing a caregiver role is both a gift and can be an enormous stress, so first of all, I think it’s important to take good care of yourself.
To that end, I can recommend some Pema Chödrön, the master of all things difficult. I particularly recommend The Places that Scare You in this situation, as I find thinking of parents becoming less able brings up a tremendous amount of fear for me. She can do no wrong in my eyes, and this book has been a godsend on numerous occasions.
Specific to the topic of caring for aging parents, my research turned up My Mother, Your Father: Embracing Slow Medicine, the Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones. Written by a family doctor and geriatrician, Dennis McCullough, this book covers everything from what to ask your parents’ doctors to the cycle of experience your parents have. Helpfully organized into the eight stations of later life, most reviews seemed to sigh with relief at finding this one. And the New York Times called it “A valuable book, chilling and comforting in equal measure.” Should be just the ticket.
Finally, I think the best way to stay sane in the midst of mind-bending change is to inject a bit of humor. To that end, I recommend David Sedaris’ writing. No one is funnier about weird family dynamics, so I think a little comic relief could be exactly what is needed when you feel in over your head with mom and dad. Since the holidays are approaching (aren’t they always?) I’m probably going to treat myself to a re-read of Holidays on Ice this year. I suggest you give it a go as well.
Lots of love to you, and your parents.
the book dr.
PS- if anyone else has reading that has helped them with elderly parents, PLEASE SHARE in the comments below. We can all learn from each other’s resources!