A kaleidoscopic vision of what it means to care for an ailing relative.
As Casey (editor, Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, 2001) tells it in the introduction to this collection of essays, she got off easy. Though she saw her sister, Maude, through hospitalization for a manic episode and then a five-month long bout of depression, she points out that the family did eventually see her through: “Once Maud got back on her feet, she returned to her life with tenacity and success,” writes Casey. “My family, meanwhile, was given the pleasure and satisfaction of believing that our hard work had paid off, that we had helped Maud.” But for many of the writers of these almost-uniformly devastating accounts, the only end in sight is death, and the drama lies in learning how to deal with it. Helen Schulman writes about watching her father’s slow decline from his position as chief resident at Mt. Sinai to a bedridden mess with so many problems they didn’t know what killed him until the autopsy. Sam Lipsyte tells of moving back in with his mother to recover from drug addiction only to become her caretaker when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ann Hood writes of the sudden death of her five-year-old daughter, ravaged by the common strep virus, while Julia Glass writes from the other side of the hospital bed about her experience being cared for as a breast-cancer patient. Stories of Alzheimer’s, M.S. and cancer abound, as well as tales of coping with a child’s autism or a husband’s sudden catastrophic head injury. Thankfully, there are stories of recovery, but they challenge the wishful idea that recovery means a return to life as it had been. Each essay—other contributors include Julia Alvarez, Jerome Groopman and Anne Landsman—explores the burdens, terrors, sorrows and, occasionally, joy involved in undergoing a terrible ordeal with someone you love.
A beautifully written but painful series of meditations.