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

Who am I?

I am a care aide (aka personal support worker) who has happily worked at an extended care facility for more than twenty years, and as such, I have been a compassionate listener to many a family member suffering from the tsunami of feelings involved when coping with aging parents or spouses, so I thought I would be well-positioned and emotionally prepared to cope when it was my turn to face my own mother's deterioration. How wrong I was! Thank goodness for the generous souls who write memoirs. Each of the books that I have chosen was an education and an affirmation to me as I tried to maintain my equilibrium while supporting my mother and my mother-in-law through their final years.

I wrote...

A Funny Kind of Paradise

By Jo Owens,

Book cover of A Funny Kind of Paradise

What is my book about?

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a novel about a strong, independent woman who, because of a debilitating stroke, ends up in an extended care facility, partially paralyzed, mute, and tube-fed. But Francesca still has a strong will to live, and a great sense of humour, and she is surprised to find herself deeply engaged in the lives the residents she lives with and the workers who look after them all. The daily routines and dramas Fran witnesses lead her to reconsider her past, in particular her role as a single parent to her children.

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a warm and insightful novel about one woman's opportunity for reinvention--for unconditional love, acceptance, and closure--in the unlikeliest of places.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

Jo Owens Why did I love 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.

By Elizabeth Hay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Things Consoled as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's beloved novelists, comes a startling and beautiful memoir about the drama of her parents' end, and the longer drama of being their daughter. Winner of the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonficiton.

Jean and Gordon Hay were a colourful, formidable pair. Jean, a late-blooming artist with a marvellous sense of humour, was superlatively frugal; nothing got wasted, not even maggoty soup. Gordon was a proud and ambitious schoolteacher with a terrifying temper, a deep streak of melancholy, and a devotion to flowers, cars, words, and his wife. As old age collides with…

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

Jo Owens Why did I love 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.

By George K. Ilsley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Home Stretch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George K. Ilsley explores his complex relationship with his aging father in this candid memoir full of sharp emotion and disarming humor. George’s father is ninety-one years old, a widower, and fiercely independent; an avid gardener, he’s sweet and more than a little eccentric. But he’s also a hoarder who makes embarrassing comments and invitations to women, and he has made no plans whatsoever for what is inevitably coming over the horizon.

Decades after George has moved four time zones away, he begins to make regular trips home to help care for his cranky and uncooperative father, and to sift…

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

Jo Owens Why did I love 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.

By Jann Arden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Feeding My Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This edition of the inspirational #1 bestseller draws on a new year of Jann's diaries and her mother's final days.

When beloved singer and songwriter Jann Arden's parents built a house just across the way from her, she thought they would be her refuge from the demands of her career. And for a time that was how it worked. But then her dad fell ill and died, and just days after his funeral, her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. 

In Feeding My Mother, Jann shares what it is like for a daughter to become her mother's caregiver--in her own frank…

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

Jo Owens Why did I love 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.

By Sarah Leavitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tangles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this powerful memoir the the LA Times calls “moving, rigorous, and heartbreaking," Sarah Leavitt reveals how Alzheimer’s disease transformed her mother, Midge, and her family forever. In spare blackand- white drawings and clear, candid prose, Sarah shares her family’s journey through a harrowing range of emotions—shock, denial, hope, anger, frustration—all the while learning to cope, and managing to find moments of happiness. Midge, a Harvard educated intellectual, struggles to comprehend the simplest words; Sarah’s father, Rob, slowly adapts to his new role as full-time caretaker, but still finds time for wordplay and poetry with his wife; Sarah and her…

Book cover of Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

Jo Owens Why did I love 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.

By Roz Chast,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times Bestseller
2014 National Book Award Finalist
Winner of the inaugural 2014 Kirkus Prize in nonfiction
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the 2014 Books for a Better Life Award
Winner of the 2015 Reuben Award from National Cartoonists Society

In her first memoir, New Yorker cartoonist 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…

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Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

Book cover of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

Antonieta Contreras Author Of Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a trauma therapist and dedicated researcher, I love uncovering valuable insights within lesser-known books. There are hidden gems, free from the pressure of commercial success, crafted by authors deeply committed to research, understanding, and the art of writing itself. Their dedication resonates with me, as I believe in the profound value of information and the power of critical thinking. Through my own book, Traumatization and Its Aftermath, I aim to emphasize that psychological concepts often lose their depth in translation and my mission is spreading awareness and fostering a deeper understanding of trauma and its intricate facets. With that idea in mind, I chose these five titles. 

Antonieta's book list on uncovering the human experience and exploring the depths of trauma

What is my book about?

A fresh take on the difference between trauma and hardship in order to help accurately spot the difference and avoid over-generalizations.

The book integrates the latest findings in brain science, child development, psycho-social context, theory, and clinical experiences to make the case that trauma is much more than a cluster of symptoms to be tamed, but instead best understood as development gone off course, away from growth and towards (only) survival.

This book prompts a profound shift in perception, inviting to view trauma as an intricate and diverse experience, a point of view that ultimately leads to sharper treatment and, hopefully, more healing. It encourages a transition from asking, "What happened to you?" to the deeper question, "What is your relationship with what happened to you?"

Traumatization and Its Aftermath: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Treating Trauma Disorders

By Antonieta Contreras,

What is this book about?

The book is comprehensive, bold, and practical-a much-needed resource for the assessment and treatment of trauma. Instead of the traditional focus on the overall importance of healing, Traumatization and its Aftermath decodes why some people don't heal as easily as others, analyzes the various failures of diagnosis, and explains how to make therapeutic interventions truly effective.

This book offers a systemic deep dive into traumatization that clarifies myths and misinformation about the entire spectrum of trauma and provides both clinicians and non-clinicians with the right level of validation, preventive measures, conceptualization methodology, assessment tools, and healing facts that have not…

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