A story of a woman caring for her parents with as much filial piety as she can muster.
Li (Journey Across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, 2006, etc.) begins her story with an elderly Chinese couple bemoaning their children’s choice to place them in a nursing home, a conversation replete with quotations of Confucius and the virtue xiao, or filial piety. After Tak, the husband, swallows a bottle of vitamins in a suicidal gesture, they move to live in their daughter Cary’s home. As Cary moves her parents into the master suite, she thinks, “When a Chinese parent says, ‘You shouldn’t go to so much trouble for me,’ the reply he wants is, ‘To be able to serve you is my greatest honor.’ ” But when the pressure of caregiving builds, Cary has a confrontation with her father that sends him to bed for weeks. Cary then goes through the experience of convincing her independent father—a man who believes mental illness is not for Chinese people—to see a psychiatrist. Over the years, she clashes with her parents and still takes care of their every need. Her marriage, and even her dog, begins to suffer. She realizes she must redefine what filial piety means in practice. Li is a compassionate narrator, and her choice to write chapters from many perspectives (including the dog’s) rounds out the family drama in a way that leaves no clear heroes and no villains. The difficulty of watching parents age and falter mentally and physically is present but so is the love it takes to prioritize their wellness despite what they may do and say. Cary’s journey through caretaking is paralleled by a deepening of her understanding of Confucianism, her parents’ religion. A deep examination of what it means to see one’s parents through the end of life, Li’s book is also in many ways the story of a woman coming to grips with her heritage.
An affecting look at caring for aging parents and a story of the nuances of Chinese culture.