This is a book about relating to elders, caregiving, and death for people whose personal childhood story was a horror movie, not a Hallmark card.
For those adults who are pursuing relationships with and/or becoming caregivers to elders who were reasonably loving, decent, and honorable in their relationships with you, those complications are difficult in and of themselves...
There is a group of adults whose dilemmas in dealing with the aging, illness, and death of elders are complex beyond the norm. This book is for those folks—for adults raised in families that were frightening, confusing, dangerous, sometimes criminal in their treatment of their children. The elders in these families are...people who...behaved in vicious, venal, abusive, and/or neglectful ways to those children. You are those children, grown into adults confronted with cultural and social demands to relate to those elders, and sometimes to step into the caregiver role.
This is an almost one-of-a-kind resource, since nobody seems to have put together two clear facts: a huge number of children are abused in childhood, and [in the US] a full 60% of elderly people are being cared for solely by family. That number increases to 95% if we include family taking any role in caregiving for a family member. So it is clear that many people who were abused in childhood are now caring for that abusive parent/primary caregiver in their elderly years.
Surprisingly, there was nothing in the self-help literature (and there seems to be little or no scholarly research finished or even in process) for those adult children who are now either feeling pressured to care for their former abusive caregiver or who are already doing so.
Obviously this can be problematic on a number of levels.
I'm only writing this review so others will know of this resource. Written in a very open and non-prescriptive style, readers can take what they need and ignore the rest. For those who want much clearer "do this" and "don't do that" guidance, this may feel somewhat nebulous. The bottom line comes down to "you do not have to care for this person who harmed you when you were the vulnerable one."
There is tremendous personal and societal pressure to take on the role of caregiver to an elderly person, but that may be a very bad idea for a number of reasons -- both to the adult child and to the formerly abusive older person. (And not every abusive person becomes lovely and kind in old age. They may continue some abusive patterns throughout life.)
Unfortunately, the US medical system doesn't much care if this person terrorized you, they will assume you either should or must take on this new project. Armed at least with one resource, hopefully we can avoid everyone feeling like they must be the primary caregiver to the person who failed so horribly in this role years before.
I liked this well enough, but there's a reason I've not read it until now. Something to do with never get too close to your (literary or otherwise) heros...
The interesting parts are about the inner workings of his writing. I'd have rated it much higher if it was just that. I do wish a psychiatrist or other professional would've been included in this book. It's one thing to look at the literary part of DFW's life, but this crossed so far into mental illness, because it had to, that I would've appreciated little things like not using the word "manic" in a colloquial way for a person who is clinically depressed. More than that, I'd have appreciated seeing everything discussed through a good professionally-adept lens.
I was sold on the literary theory b/c I don't know much about literary theory. I was not sold much at all on the psychological guesswork included as fact.
Despite that, this is a carefully and exhaustively researched book though, and I did appreciate the lack of judgment and straight reporting on facts, or as he notes in the afterward, the closest he could get to the facts as he understood them.
Probably more important than any in-action memoir could be. Indeed I think this book is more important to understand than Finkel's first book about these same soldiers when they were deployed in Iraq. Here we see the real cost of war, very few holds barred. We also see war widows and the wives and families of those who come home forever changed. If I came away with one clear idea, it is that war is never-ending and continues trying to kill you from the day you step foot back "home" until...forever, I suppose.
This book, or a book much like it, should be required reading for every American who hasn't served in one of our wars.