Facing the Inevitable With Grace and Wit

Amara Rose January 20, 2015 10

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reverse mortgage newsIt’s time to talk about the subject-that-must-not-be-named.

Yes, death. While 100 percent of us will make this crossing at some point, it remains the greatest conversational taboo. The closest most people come to discussing the end of their lives is estate planning — and even that important topic, often reluctantly.

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, however, not only tackles dying head-on, she does so with a humor and humility that make Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, her graphic memoir about her parents’ decline into old age and death, an astonishing read filled with more beauty than pathos, poignant yet positive. It puts a highly personal face on what caregiving looks like, and as we visited this topic last month, Chast’s memoir is a timely sequel.

With aging and dying all around us, it should not be as surprising as it appears to be when it’s our turn to face the music. As John Updike wrote, “Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” Yet we sweep such discussions away like annoying insects. As Chast states at the start of her fascinating foray into the last banned discourse, “It was against my parents’ principles to talk about death…”

Yet she feels compelled to become more involved in their lives as they enter their 90s, and her artistic wit takes us deeper into what feels like our own parents’ elderhood: “Things were going downhill, but for many years, the decline was blessedly gradual.” (Accompanied by an image of her folks sitting in a couch on skis, gliding down a bunny slope). She writes,

“My mother belonged to a Poetry Club. She also played classical piano in a group that, to all the members’ amusement, was called Classical Pianists in Retirement: CPR.”

Then comes the call everyone dreads: “Mom fell.” And nothing is the same afterwards.

Through the decision to move her parents into assisted living — “the Place”, she calls it — to their eventual declines and deaths, Chast’s memoir is an instructive guidebook that demonstrates love, compassion, frustration, grief and other complex emotions surrounding this passage with unflinching honesty.

Humor remains the saving grace. Towards the very end for her mother, Chast describes how a nurse at the Place put a DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) bracelet on her mom’s wrist, so that if she were rushed to the hospital they would not hook her up to life-saving machines, “that would turn her into the dreaded ‘pulsating piece of protoplasm.’” Ruminating on how the bracelet seems too much like a toe tag, she follows this paragraph with a laugh-out-loud visual: “Limited Time Offer! Not Available in Stores! Get the Entire Ensemble!” It’s a cartoon of her mother, smartly dressed, with clothes, handbag and umbrella emblazoned, “DNR”.

Whether you are, will be, or have faced these issues in your own family, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? will give reverse mortgage professionals an inside peek into how both parents and children face life’s ultimate transition. Chast describes the events in her parents’ lives in such a way that the reader feels it can be her or his own life story.

Speaking the truth about what we fear demystifies and sanctifies. And as we embrace these gifts, the emotional energy that’s no longer being used to suppress is available to express. It’s how we — reverse mortgage specialists, the elders we serve, their children, and all of us as we age — can approach the inevitable with grace and wit.

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10 Comments »

  1. Carol Hurst January 20, 2015 at 4:29 am - Reply

    Can’t wait to get this book/publication! It’s always comforting to know folks get published for thinking the way I do – realizing each day is truly a gift and one that should certainly be opened. I trust this book will lead more of the aging population AND their families to realize the importance of ‘looking on the sunny side of life’ and that burying our heads in the sand simply won’t ‘get it’. HUMOR and LAUGHTER are KEY.
    As always, THANKS so much for sharing what you know to be so encouraging and enlightening!!!

  2. hecmvet January 20, 2015 at 7:22 am - Reply

    When I saw the subject line of this article I thought it was going to be about Financial Assessment! ha ha

    • The_Critic January 20, 2015 at 11:19 am - Reply

      hecmvet,

      You put a smile on my face!!

  3. Pat Smoot January 20, 2015 at 11:27 am - Reply

    What great commentary on a taboo subject. I look forward to reading the book. Thanks for sharing on an important topic for all of us.

    • Amara Rose January 21, 2015 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Hi Pat,

      You’re quite welcome. Hopefully we’re in an era when death and dying can finally “come out of the closet.” The Death Cafes happening worldwide are one positive option — the one I attended was filled with lively discussion, often by some very senior participants!

  4. Amara Rose January 20, 2015 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Thanks for your enlightened response, Carol! I think it took a lot of personal courage for Roz Chast to write this book, and to bring humor to a subject that is not usually thought of as remotely amusing.

    We’re planning a webinar that will explore aspects of dying and death from a positive perspective for later this year — your ideas are welcome! Stay tuned…

    Blessings,
    Amara

  5. James E. Veale, CPA, MBT January 20, 2015 at 11:42 am - Reply

    One of my favorite accounting/tax clients was a gentleman who was an employee of a small business and infused the business with his imagination and vigor making it a well recognized and valuable company in Southern California. Eventually he was the sole owner of the company. I became his accountant about 30 years ago, although he was already a client of our CPA firm.

    Year after year the business grew well into the early senior years of the owner. Annually as we did his accounting and tax work, I felt more and more pressed to engage him in a discussion about his estate. His wife wanted me to bring it up even more than I did. I could find no records about any estate planning in our old files.

    The owner turned to me one day and asked me why I thought he did not want to talk to me about his estate. He explained that any number of estate attorneys had solicited his business but he wanted no part of it. I explained that I thought he was like my dad who was raised in a home that never discussed death even treating it like a taboo.

    The owner turned and said that his reason was based on observation. He said that everyone of his friends who had told him that they had just finished their estate planning died within 12 months. It was his concern that the more he focused on death, the quicker it would come. He is alive and well with no estate plan in place. He has only had one wife and is on good speaking terms with his children so his need for any real estate planning is low even if his estate is somewhat at risk from creditors. The husband understands the potential risks and problems he will create for his heirs by doing nothing but that is his choice. While the wife will do something about her estate, that will only occur if she outlives her husband.

  6. Amara Rose January 20, 2015 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    James,

    This is an intriguing message that points up the power of our subconscious mind. I have no doubt that for many people, “putting their affairs in order” could signal that they’re ready to depart. So if this belief is strong in your client’s consciousness, I can appreciate his decision to eschew estate planning.

    I hope his will and other assets are up to date. Thanks for sharing this valuable perspective.

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