In this non-fiction account of taking care of her aging mother, Meg Federico has tapped into an experience that more and more people are facing. Over a ten year span of time, Federico faced the nuttiness, the anxiety, the exhaustion, and the sheer terror and heart-break of finally having to parent a parent. Federico acknowledges that for the sake of the story she has minimized her siblings' contributions to her mother and step-father's care and that Addie and Walter were blessed with enough money to live through most of this period of time in their own home under the care of home care aides, unlike many aging folks out there. There are hard truths about aging here but Federico leavens these truths with humor. She doesn't flinch from admitting the toll it took on her, her husband , and her children, to be a long-distance caretaker to two people who not only faced dementia but a litany of other chronic health-care issues as well. Walter started ordering sexual aids through the mail. Addie drank to excess. Both of them waged outright war with certain of their aides. But even at their most bizarre or outrageous, they are, at the end of the day, waging a losing battle against the ravages of time and their children have no choice but to try and conduct them to the end of the war as easily as possible.
This book is both terrible and hilarious. It is well-written and honest. What is very clear throughout all of Federico's dealings with her mother is how much she does what she does out of love and not obligation, even when being there for Addie is its most grueling and difficult. I don't know that we have a choice in how we age, whether we are going to become completely irrascible and cantankerous, or if we will meekly accept what others deem to be in our best interest. Does it depend on our prior dispositions? In Federico's musings on both Addie and Walter's personalities before the ravages of age changed them, we see seeds of the elderly people they become but those seeds were certainly tempered by other aspects of their personalities that seem to have faded under the onslaught of the stronger (and ultimately nuttier) aspects that ruled the last ten years of life. And learning to adjust to and accept these stronger personalities is one of the challenges for a child taking care of her elderly parent. As I read along in this, I couldn't help but laugh, even as I gasped in horror at the indignities incumbent in growing old. There is a card or plaque or bumper sticker out there somewhere that tells us that "Growing Old Isn't For Sissies" and this book certainly supports the sentiment wholeheartedly. In the end, after Addie's death, Federico imagines her response to this difficult and love-filled memoir of the end of life and of the ten year long journey Federico herself took with her mother towards this end. And her imagined response beautifully encapsulates so much of their relationship that it is likely to leave you with a smile on your face and tears shimmering in your eyes.