Were you hoping for an upward trend? Me too! Alas, Mother’s Milk is a lengthy rumination of how very unfair it is that Robert’s mother is willing her beautiful French villa to a sect rather than her only son. You may recall that Robert was brutally abused by his father in that villa, so perhaps it should not hold such sweet memories for him, but Robert feels strongly that what remains of his mother’s fortune is owed to him. The only happy interludes in the story are the ruminations of Robert’s son. The author has a wonderful gift for observing young children. But I am quite tired of storied of the entitled rich and entitled once-upon-a-time rich.
Tag Archives: aging
A Bittersweet Season is a rather messily organized book, with frequent repeats, and about a depressing topic: how to take care of aging relatives. Moreover, it’s articulated around the author’s personal experience, which is often a recipe for disaster. And yet, it works. The author’s travails as she struggles to find appropriate care for her mom, a once fiercely independent woman laid low by age and infirmity, are touching even as (perhaps because) she explains how she went wrong and would choose other strategies today. Her resentment of the division of labor with her brother makes perfect sense even if we want to tell her to take that vacation, right away, and don’t even call in for the week. And her mom’s sarcastic sense of humor shines through despite her increasing despair and frustrations.
Along the way are lots of practical considerations for how to plan for our future and the present and future of our elders. The most crucial may be to face reality and not let emotions overwhelm logic. While a nursing home may not be our dream housing option, it may be the right place to be. The only area of disagreement I may have with the book is the idea that it’s somehow disgraceful to ask seniors to contribute their resources before they can receive government help. But overall I found the book both useful and human.
What makes a good rant? One that’s funny, yet biting. One that illuminates a subject that we may not think about every day. One that precipitates action, if warranted.
Never Say Die is essentially a 300-page rant about how Americans mistakenly believe they will never die and certainly will never age, looking forever like those 40-year old in Viagra commercials. It is often funny and often biting. It talks about an interesting topic. It’s often right about how deluded people can be. But 300 pages worth of ranting? And without offering practical suggestions, apart from the bland, innocuous, and minuscule (1) accept the reality that most very old people are ill or demented and we will one day belong to that tribe, (2) eat your vegetables and exercise, but don’t think that will protect you 100% and (3) have a living will. Is she serious? Are there no other recommendations that could be slipped into a full-length book. Well, she does have one more, but one that makes no sense, namely to have the government take care of the financial needs of old people. Hello! There is no financial miracle, no more than there are aging miracles. Since we will all get old one day we can’t look to the government to finance our old age. We have to do it ourselves. Maybe as a group, and maybe through government intervention, but government can’t invent the resources to get it done.
Please excuse me as I go check on my retirement plan.
And I should mention that the author does a great job of weaving in her family stories, about her parents, her grandmother, and her own experience, into the book. The anecdotes are always in context and helpful to see the emotional side of the problem.
I thought that How We Age would describe how our bodies and minds change with age, and to some extent it does, but the author, who works as a psychiatrist in a nursing home, understandably focuses on the confused and the demented, painting a rather dismal picture, in my mind. (He does present a number of highly functioning examples, to be sure, but the ratio seems off, even at 80 years and over!)
One thing that struck me throughout the book is how often old people can be treated with little respect by their caretakers, worse than small children, really. They may be old, they may be frail, and they may even be slightly demented, but why not see the person first and the handicap (and the age) later? So when a perfectly sane woman reports an invasion of ants it would be good to first check whether there are indeed ants in the room rather than treat her for dementia. And when another wants to die (at 90 plus and practically completely paralyzed), why not allow her to simply refuse food or treatment? It’s scary to think of being very old, scarier to think of being ignored as independent human beings.
It turns out that the “grown up” of the title in The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain is really the middle-aged, that is, us, and that our brains are working wonderfully well. What a feel-good book! It turns out that forgetting the titles of the books we read (guilty) or colleagues’ names (guilty) or why the heck we stepped into the garage (guilty, again) is nothing compared to the feats of integration and problem solving we can accomplish with our mature brains. It also turns out that we are much happier than the younger set (must be all the forgetting!). O, and we are much better than our younger friends at considering the very big picture when resolving problems.
I loved that book. And I’m trying to ignore its noting that, after age 73 (why 73? why not 77 or 69?), we must be ready for a decline. I will take the next 23 years with glee and willful ignoring of what comes next.
The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead is a hard book to classify: is it a precis about how the body ages? Yes. Is it a memoir of the author’s and his dad’s aging? Yes. Is it a family memoir? Yes again. The author starts with a simple observation of his almost-centenarian father’s amazing vitality and spins a tale that includes his own childhood in San Mateo, CA, his past physical prowess until an untimely accident in high school , his experience as a father and a sometimes helper to his own father — as well as copious literary and scientific quotes about aging and funny random observations including very late night TV lineups.
By the always funny and understated David Lodge, Deaf Sentence starts out as a simple, perhaps superficial story about middle-aged deafness with hilarious observations about the indignities of miscommunications but veers into the heartbreak of helping aging parents, balanced by the joys and beauty of simple things. Very meditative and zen by the end, after you enjoy the pure fun and silliness of the first 100 pages.
How to Live claims to chronicle a search for wisdom from old people (while they are still on this earth.) And indeed, it does. Chronicle the search, that is, which consists of the minutiae of arranging interviews interspersed with not very interesting conversations with famous people such as Ram Dass (would love to be living in his Maui house though, minus his paralysis, that is) and non-famous people who seem reasonably likable but who spout pretty generic stuff. And there’s the saga of his elderly mother’s divorce from his stepfather, divorce apparently triggered by this interview of the stepfather. Awkward for outsiders and rather boring, although his mom is a character.
To be fair, I found what I thought was a hilarious and most applicable piece of advice in this book: Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. I’ll keep that in mind — and read other books!
The rich are not like us. For starters, they have several “residences” (nothing as gauche as houses or apartments) in wonderful locales in which they alternate depending on the season — although they also rent other luxurious residences when needed, like a month in Florida during the winter. They have staff, 8 for Mrs Astor, including a French chef whose main job appeared to be preparing pureed food for her at the end of her life. They do not mix with the hoi polloi but instead are whisked in chauffeured cars (see, they need the staff) to special functions where they will mix with other rich people. There are many Metropolitan Museum board events in this book, and not much art gets discussed, at least in the book.
But they have families, just like the rest of us, and wayward relatives who may not behave impeccably (here, a son and especially his wife), and Alzheimer’s, and wills. And since the wills, unlike ours, must dispose of a few hundred million dollars (too many zeroes for my brain!) the relatives can get awfully greedy, especially if they must wait for a centenarian to die.
Mrs. Astor Regrets tells the story of Mrs. Astor, whose grandson accused his father (her only son) of elder abuse and who found herself in the middle of a court battle not only for elder abuse but also fraud. Although the topic is voyeuristic and the story biased at times I was fascinated by this book as the author offers excellent portraits of most of the protagonists, including the staff, and the story she tells is universal, about the difficulty of aging. Skip the chapters about the legal details!
Can you believe that a Park Avenue “residence” can lack central AC? I guess it’s not needed for folks who would normally summer in Maine…
I picked up this book because I liked Forward From Here and I was disappointed. Like Forward from Here, this is a journal-like description of the author’s life but the topic is different; here she focuses on the final months of her mother’s life (Charles Lindbergh’s widow), when she was completely dependent on caregivers because of multiple health problems including a severe case of dementia. Perhaps because the topic is so sad there are few of the funny life anecdotes that filled Forward from Here, and indeed the funny bits are almost all related to her young son. (My favorite: invited to visit the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC for a private viewing of the Spirit of Saint Louis, mother and son are hoisted up in a cherry-picker to touch the plane, which hangs from the ceiling. The mother is overwhelmed and turns to her son to ask what he’s feeling. “Awesome! I’ve never been in a cherry-picker before!” Spoken like a 12-year old…)
I also liked the story of how Charles Lindbergh chose his grave site, which is in a beautiful spot on East Maui, well worth the long drive and impossible directions if you find yourself on the island. The rest of the book is grim, hope-we-don’t-age-like-this stuff…