Helping Your Parents Age Well is Hard. Why “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”

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Why I read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant


To be perfectly honest, I read this book because it’s one of the very few graphic novels listed in James Mustich’s 1000 Books to Read BeforeYou Die. I don’t know if this book would have jumped out at me without that.

And honestly, reading about one’s parents getting old and dying isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “comic”.

Any anyway, I’ve been through it myself, and now I have to help my friends and family go through it. Enough.

But if Mustich thinks it’s so great, I can give it three hours of my time.

Who is Roz Chast?

Author Roz Chast at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, United States. Larry D. Moore. 4 November 2007.

Roz Chast is a cartoonist for The New Yorker.

Mary Ellen Page Sr. (left) with colleagues, Tolono Jr. High School 28 November 1966. Credit Kevin Dooley

Click for source.

Both of her parents were school teachers. Her dad taught languages, and her mom was an assistant principal.

This image, from 1965, shows a group of American school teachers from the years Mrs. Chast was working.

People forget that women were leading schools long before they could have any sort of comparable role in other professions…of course, because teaching was one of the few professions open to women.

It’s sobering to think that if you live until advanced old age, there would actually be people who could have entire careers in the time that you are retired!

More by Roz Chast

Going into Town

Around the Clock



Why You Should Read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant


I’m not going to lie; this book is kind of depressing.  But it’s also pretty funny.  One of the things I especially like about Chast’s work, and this is the first of her books that I’ve read, is her facial expressions.  She is a genius at using wavy lines…I kid you not…to express her characters emotions.


The subject matter…advanced, sort of supernatural, old age is important, but to be honest, it’s something I can deal with much better in a graphic version than in a full length book.  Partly because, it’s true, you can read a graphic in pretty much one sitting, and it’s over, which is what I did.  I’m kind of glad I read it all at once because I did feel a little sad after, I’m not going to lie.


But it’s also important because it’s something we don’t think about that much: extreme, extreme old age.


The story is about Chast’s parents’ demise…both of whom were in their 90’s.  It seems to me that in one way, their both living so long delayed her having to get involved, but when it finally happened, the situation was messier because she had one parent who was dying, eventually, and one who needed a lot of care.  And the whole thing was EXPENSIVE!  

So Chast’s parents’ extreme frugality may have exasperated her during her entire life, but in the end, it’s good that they were…and even still, by the time her mother passed, they were running out of money.  It took almost their whole life savings to get them through the last two years of their lives.  

It’s messy.  If Chast’s evaluation of the situation is to be believed, even something as simple as drinking Ensure can keep someone going a while…and while I’m not saying people should die, also at what point should life be extended and extended?  

As Chast says in the end, it’s her parents’ money, and it’s good that they had it.  

Also, an interesting epiphany that I personally had as I was reading this book: it’s no longer the child I identify with, even though I am actually younger than Chast…by more than a decade…I identify with the parents.  My parents both passed some time ago, and I found myself thinking about whether I would have wanted that money to go to an assisted living facility or to my daughter…I guess I’ll figure it out when the time comes. 


My mom lived in one, at her choice, and the nice ones are fine, especially when the individuals are relatively healthy.  It really comes down to what the choices are.


Do what I did, sit down with a glass of wine and read it all at once.  You’ll be glad you did.

Free Read

Excerpt from Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

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