5 Takeaways from Roz Chast
Walking into her parents’ apartment for the first time in decades, the grime offers Roz the first clue that her parents might need help. She is ushered into the “Sandwich Generation,” giving time to her parents and her daughter and feeling spread too thin.
The graphic novel Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant chronicles this period of Chast’s life, and offers insight and humor for those who can relate. Though she speaks from one specific experience, Chast depicts a part of American life that many have experienced–and few have attempted to capture. Here are five ideas I took away from her book that I’d like to pass along to you:
There’s humor even in stressful situations. Chast’s book was full of great quips and depictions of her parents, who are made vivid through her writings and images. I found myself laughing often at these anecdotes that captured the spirit of her parents’ thrifty generation.
In one scene, Chast describes shopping with her mother, who will buy a “Quintuple-Queen” pair of avocado-colored pantyhose just because they’re on sale. “[I’ll] make three pair out of it!” she exclaims, “Dye ’em with RIT. . . And if worst comes to worst, I’ll make Daddy a vest out of them.” While in the images, Roz Chast sighs and shakes her head, saying, “This is all wrong,” there’s laughter in these moments as they are recounted with the grace of time. Her parents’ quirks are familiar to all those who have one of those lovable but occasionally exasperating families.
2. Your love and empathy are the greatest gifts, and they’re free. Time we spend with loved ones makes them feel valued in a way that no dollar amount could decide. In Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Chast includes several poems written by her mother, and one in particular was striking. It ends:
In their limited firmament,
Their heaven’s brightest star,
Is their dearest daughter
Their greatest joy, by far.
Her visits, though brief
Lengthen their days
For her love and concern
Nourish her parents, always.
Those who are no longer as mobile or able to go out and socialize as they once were need even more love and support from their loved ones. These are gifts more valuable than money.
3. You’re not alone. Whether you’re confused about Medicaid, how to bring up health care directives, or whether it’s the right time to start looking for Assisted Living Facilities (and how to talk about it)–other people are out there, wondering the same things as you are. Chast depicts herself as totally out of her element, worried about having enough time to care for both her parents and her own daughter. She worries about her parents constantly, about not doing enough for them and about doing too much and taking away their liberties and happiness. All of this is a delicate balance that she, and many others, navigate for the ones we love.
4. You’re not a bad person (or a bad child) for worrying about the cost of long-term care. The good news is that you’re going to live longer than any generation before you. The other side of that coin is needing long-term care, which can be expensive. Chast wants her parents to be comfortable and happy, but she also has to manage the finances. Her situation is not as dire as some, but it’s still a stressful situation. She portrays herself a constantly worrying about whether this was truly what they would have wanted. This too is a difficult situation, but one that can be significantly improved with planning ahead, especially in terms of receiving government benefits–Chast’s father was a veteran, for example–and feeling clear on medical wishes for your loved ones.
5. The conversation might not go as poorly as you think. At the beginning of the book, Chast worries about starting the end-of-life conversation with her parents. They all breathe a sigh of relief when she leaves their apartment without having to discuss “what they want.” But later in the story, she introduces the “Elder Lawyer.”
Infused with her usual humor, Chast shows the Elder Lawyer as an ordinary fellow who works a kind of magic by coming to their house and answering all of their questions about pensions, rent, taxes, health care proxies, and power of attorney. He gets them to talk about what Chast considers very personal matters, like their feelings about extraordinary measures to prolong life.
The Elder Lawyer scene was my particular favorite chapter because it was one of the few times that Roz Chast seemed put at ease in her difficult situation. Thanks to the Elder Lawyer, she didn’t have to appear in front of a judge to request Medical Guardianship for her parents when they could no longer speak for themselves. She was able to manage their funds and take the weight off their shoulders. Her parents had an easier end-of-life because of this one meeting.
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