Roz Chast was coming to speak at a community center near me. I signed on immediately. Love the New Yorker cartoonist's humor and outlook on life, but wanted to go especially because she would be talking about her latest prize-deserving tome, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant. The title refers, of course, to her parents' refusal to discuss with their grown (and only) child what they would do if and when they became frail and could no longer manage on their own--which eventually happened.
This is a long way of saying the book was lying around my house when Alpha daughter flew into town on a combo business-home visit trip. She breezed through parts of the book. (Despite the heaviness of its topic, the book is funny, emotionally frank and touching.) I mentioned that I was also reading Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, (not so funny, brutally frank and downright scary) a book her brother, aka Uber Son, had read this past summer and recommended.
So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when Alpha daughter sent an email suggesting we all--daughter, son, dad, mom--read both books and have a book-club like discussion about them. The way she phrased it made it seem a charming idea: the togetherness of a book-reading adventure with our grown children.
I saw it as something else as well. The opening to discuss exactly what both authors were writing about--the "something unpleasant," and "what matters in the end" as it pertains to Paterfamilias and myself. In some circles, such discussions are known as the 40/70 talk. That is, by the time the grown child is 40 and the parents are 70, they should have had--before a crisis occurs--a “talk” about the parents' living and financial choices, health, driving and end of life care.
I haven't ask Alpha daughter if that's what she had in mind (she had also included in the reading list a third book, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and living like the world's healthiest people), but it's something that's on mine. Paterfamilias and I have started to compile our 40/70 financial list: where our assets are, what our passwords to online accounts are, where our will is, where we've stored the deed to the house and car ownership papers. We haven't handed it over yet. But even more important than that list are the more anxiety-provoking Chast-Gawande issues: Do our children know and understand how each of us feel about end of life care, about what we do and don't want done if we are no longer able to make clear and rational decisions or are just not able to care for ourselves or each other.
Our book club discussion may be the perfect opening to a conversation that needs to take place while we're still the active, busy people our kids are used to. The end may not be in sight but we need to share with our grown children how, when the time comes, we see ourselves ratcheting down our life style and aging with whatever grace we can muster. It may be an unpleasant subject for them (It made me uneasy whenever my mother handed me an updated list of the banks where she had parked her money), but it's downright anxiety-provoking for us.
Let that not be an excuse, I tell myself. Let these books be the entry point for saying what needs to be said and understood. Then we can put the whole business behind us and get on with our lives.