Last night my friend and I went to an event at our local Art Center to see Roz Chast. You may not recognize her name, but if you’re a New Yorker cartoon fan you’d definitely recognize her domestic, angst-ridden sense of humor. She was in town to talk about her complete works, but especially her recent memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? This personal book chronicles her relationship with her aging parents.
It hit home for me, and by the looks and sounds in the audience, it did for everyone. Between my husband and me, we have only one parent left, my mother-in-law, Elke. She could easily be a character in a Roz Chast cartoon with her aches and pains and “hangin’ in theres.” And yet, at 89, she lives independently in a senior community and is still sharp as a tack. She could use another hip replacement but won’t do it, so she’ll try a little acupuncture to see if that can help.
For many years before his death, she was her husband’s constant companion, doing a masterful job masking his progressive dementia. When he hit every pylon driving through a construction zone, she took the keys away. When he headed for the closet to pee, she guided him back to the bathroom. But when he fell and could no longer get up, she took him next door to the dementia unit where he lived his final days.
As a widow she is not alone. Her mahjong group is filled with single women. And along with their canes and walkers, they have similar stories of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, broken hips, bodies and minds. But they carry on. Their worries seem to revolve more around the lateness of mail delivery and the overdone salmon in the dining room than the progress of age that sweeps them along.
Elke’s own mother lived well into her nineties and there’s no reason to think that she won’t do the same. I’ve come to love her as my only mother figure. And I know as a mother of three sons she loves me as she would a daughter. With Mother’s Day on the horizon, I feel lucky to have someone to celebrate.