Arts and Aging: Writing About The Emotional Journey of Downsizing

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

Downsizing can be a very emotional experience. The act of sorting through and deciding the fate of personal possessions can elicit a flood of long forgotten memories. A number of authors have written about their own emotional journey while downsizing their parent’s homes. Filled with laughter and sadness the memoirs listed below are two such examples.

They Left Us Everything

“After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies.

Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks.

Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets.

The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.”

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

“In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”-with predictable results-the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies-an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades-the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.”

Do you have a favourite memoir that broaches the challenges of downsizing?

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