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As has been said about life, "none of us gets out of here alive." Given that, why is it so hard for so many of us to talk about the end of life? That's one of the big questions in Roz Chast's new memoir, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?," about her parents at the end of their lives.
Roz Chast is the brilliant cartoonist for The New Yorker, who draws and writes about our collective angst, fears and nightmares — always in a way that's full of wit and wisdom. Her work is funny, but poignant and deep.
Through her words and drawings, Chast captures the lives of George and Elizabeth Chast, who were married for nearly 70 years and her own complicated efforts to care for them.
On her parents' sense of humor:
Roz Chast: "They enjoyed a different kind of humor from what I liked. I mean, I can't say our senses of humor really overlaped. I would say they liked jokes, you know? Like, they liked those old-fashioned kind of jokes. 'A woman goes to the doctor, blah blah blah, punchline.' And I don't think they necessarily saw the same things as funny that I did."
On her parents' relationship:
RC: "They were completely entwined with one another. My mother used to say, 'The rocks in his head match the holes in mine.' I mean, they were a duo."
On watching her father suffer from dementia:
RC: "When my mother was in the hospital in Brooklyn for two weeks, my father could not be left to stay in the apartment by himself and we took him back up to Connecticut to live with us. I've heard and read a little bit more about this — that sometimes when somebody has senile dementia, when they're in their familiar surroundings and with their beloved who maybe takes care of them a little bit, many of these symptoms can sort of be masked to a certain extent. But when he came up to Connecticut, he was so disoriented, it was so heartbreaking. He would say things like, 'Where do I live? Why am I here?' And then, the worst was like, 'Where's Elizabeth?' My mother. And I would have to tell him why she wasn't there. And he would be surprised over and over again and then he'd start to remember what had happened and he'd say 'Yes, OK, calm down, how much longer?' At that point we weren't really sure. And then a few hours later it would start up again. It was really very challenging and very, very sad. And sometimes kind of funny."
On the funny aspects of end-of-life care:
RZ: "Taking him shopping was really interesting because, well, his clothes were pretty much taters because they lived deep, deep, deep in Brooklyn. It was not like there were clothing stores around them. Their clothes were kind of almost like rags and, at this point he's like 93, 94. So he hadn't been clothes shopping in a long time. I took him to a place, a big sort of discounty clothing store that has a huge selection of everything — underwear, socks, ties — and he hadn't seen the new types of underwear ads, ever. So, in the men's department is this big three by four photo of a man wearing briefs and no shirt and he has a hairless chest and my father does this double-take and he goes, 'I don't understand that!' And I said, 'What, Dad?' And he said, 'It looks like that man has breasts!' And it was because, you know, the guy had the giant pecs. And this was just so foreign to him. The waxed chest with the pecs and probably the shirtlessness itself."
On the desire to extend life past 100:
RC: "I think that if I had not gone through this experience, I might have thought, 'Huh, let's look into that.' But aside from the economic complications of that, my guess is that between 98 and 114, those are not going to be great years. People can live a long time if nothing goes hideously wrong, but the quality of life is so compromised. But I don't know, because I'm saying this from my perspective and maybe when you are 98, if you're lying in a bed and you're totally incontinent and you are not getting out of that bed and you don't eat anymore, you just drink ensure. Maybe that's fine, I don't know."
This segment aired on May 7, 2014.
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