A 40-year-old woman moves back home to care for her elderly mother in this impassioned memoir.
Shaffer (Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes, 2005) had been estranged from her 85-year-old mother for seven years (for undisclosed reasons) when her mother suddenly called her requesting a visit. Although the author still struggled with raw, painful feelings, she accepted her mother’s olive branch, hoping to repair their relationship. It marked the beginning of the author’s five-year quest to get her mother’s house in order. She left behind a boyfriend and her job as a seventh-grade English teacher and moved back into her childhood home—now littered with ants, cat urine, rodent droppings and mounds of unattended financial documents left over from her father’s death 13 years earlier. As Shaffer sorted through a lifetime of belongings, she unearthed long-buried memories. She also faced the gargantuan task of readying her mother for hospice care, while also grappling with her tumultuous relationships with her four siblings. (She refers to them only as numbers—“brother one,” “sister two.”) As her mother hallucinated during her last days, the author confronted the seemingly insurmountable chores of cleaning, shopping and organizing. During this emotional time, however, Shaffer married a roofer, Greg, whom she hired to get her mother’s house in salable condition; Greg gave her love, support and experience, as he’d cared for his ex-wife during her battle with cancer. This heart-rending story offers readers engaging lessons, but it isn’t a step-by-step manual on how to care for an elderly loved one. Shaffer’s “9 Realities” are instead weaved into personal anecdotes; they include such tasks as hiring an accountant and an attorney, documenting phone calls and e-mails, creating binders of documents and receipts, and drawing up a will and assigning a trustee. This unique memoir not only addresses the logistics of elder care, but also the unexpected love, fear and anger that can rise to the surface in the process.
An engaging document of a daughter’s emotional journey.