The best memoirs for commiserating over the "aging parents" challenge

The Books I Picked & Why

All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

By Elizabeth Hay

All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

Why this book?

Most of us have complicated feelings about our parents, and Elizabeth Hay is no exception. The time Hay spends filling in the family back story pays off by making the elder-care journey more poignant and nuanced than a sparser portrait would have produced. I read this memoir at the height of my own care-taking marathon, and while I appreciated every gorgeous word, the whole book would have been worth it for this sentence alone: "Yes, I volunteered to take [the care of my aging parents] on, but there was never a moment when I didn't wish to be let off the hook." I breathed a huge sigh of relief: I am not a monster, and I am not the only one to feel that way. I still feel grateful for that sentence.


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The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk about

By George K. Ilsley

The Home Stretch: A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk about

Why this book?

When I read memoirs about aging parents, loss is usually an important theme; Ilsley's memoir stands out because his regret is for a closeness that never was. "Only now, as my father enters his nineties . . . and my aspirations of eldercare become more interventionist, has our relationship had a chance to deepen.

"And by deepen, I mean really begin to annoy each other."

Ilsley's relationship with his father is challenging. There are good reasons why Ilsley chooses to live in Vancouver rather than "home" in Nova Scotia. But his father is still is his father, and Ilsley commits. His writing is clear, candid, thoughtful, and so warm and funny. I loved this book.


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Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with Her Mom's Memory Loss

By Jann Arden

Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with Her Mom's Memory Loss

Why this book?

When Jann Arden falls into her role as caretaker to her parents, she uses journaling and social media to maintain her sanity. "I didn't want to feel alone in a room with Alzheimer's," she writes, and so she brings the reader into her home. Comprised of excerpts from Jann's journals, photographs that make the daily minutiae feel real, and recipes, Jann's beautiful book is a generous and very personal gift. Even those who are not already ardent Jann-fans will feel like her friend when immersed in this memoir. I did my first reading in one sitting, cried, and then read it again.


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Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me

By Sarah Leavitt

Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me

Why this book?

When I read this graphic novel for the first time in 2010, it had just been published, and my mom was still my mom. I had been a care aide for ten years and I was thinking a lot about what families had already been through by the time their beloved came to me in Extended Care. Tangles tells the story of Sarah Leavitt's family from the beginning, when the family starts to notice something is wrong with Mom, to the diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, through the long journey until death. The pictures and text were a perfect combination that cracked open my heart and made me a better care aide.

Years later, I had a more personal use for Tangles. My mom didn't have Alzheimer's disease, but Leavitt's book resonated like a tuning fork in St. Paul's cathedral. "I decided to pretend she wasn't my mother so I could manage to stay on the phone and listen to her." Five frames later: "Waaah! I want my Mommy!" That. Oh my God, exactly that.


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Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir

By Roz Chast

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir

Why this book?

I am not normally a huge graphic novel enthusiast but I have included two on this list not only because Tangles and Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant are both excellent memoirs, but also because together they provide an interesting contrast between elder care in Canada and the United States, especially with regard to the Dreaded Money Thing. Besides, Roz Chast is hilarious. She made me laugh so hard, and honestly, when you're the primary caregiver for your aging parents, if you don't laugh, you'll cry.


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