Adult siblings confront emotional, legal, and financial hurdles as they struggle to provide proper care and supervision for their ailing mother in Bruch’s debut novel.
The story opens on a family in turmoil: elderly matriarch Mary has just crashed her car through a ski-shop display window. Her children agree that it’s time for them to take away her keys, but a bigger question looms: should the 88-year-old Mary, who recently lost her husband, move into an assisted living facility? She balks at the idea, but a post-accident checkup reveals that she has dementia, and the hospital staff determines that she requires around-the-clock supervision. Mary’s children and their spouses spring into action, taking turns helping her cook, clean, bathe, and shop; they also accompany her to doctors’ appointments and oversee her finances. For a time, the arrangement seems to work: Mary has her independence, and her children are satisfied by knowing that they’re respecting their mother’s wishes. But it’s a false sense of security and one that comes at a price. Over the course of the next few months, Mary experiences a dangerous fall and an accidental drug overdose; the latter lands her in the emergency room, where medical personnel again say that she needs 24-hour care. This time, they refuse to release her until her family arranges for a safer placement, as in a nursing home. The ensuing race to find appropriate housing has all the elements of a great drama, by turns hopeful and heartbreaking. Yet despite the rich subject matter, Bruch, who spent roughly three decades working in geriatric care as a licensed practical nurse, holds readers at arm’s length. Although her characters earn our sympathy, she never draws back the curtain to fully reveal the doubts, fears, and frustrations that Mary and her family confront. Similarly, the book delves into the specifics of health care privacy laws, drug interactions among the elderly, and assisted living payment plans while only including sparse details about the characters’ physical appearances.
An earnest, informative novel that reads more like a case study of end-of-life care than it does a work of fiction.