So Far Away is a book that needs to cross the path of anyone who still has senior parents alive and well. It may not be so comforting to those who in the throws of senior caregiving, but then it just might be reassuring that one is not alone.
This is a personal story about the end of two lives and how they differed and how their child dealt with their wishes and worked to comply and understand how the system worked. It is the personal story of the author.
It is a loving story and exhausting; without a great plan A, B, and C it is just the kind of thing which will occur and be repeated many, many times.
Her parents were divorced when she was 9 years old and Hartman and her 8-year-old brother lived with their father; their mother lived in an apartment a few blocks away. They were well loved but with both parents working as Engineers, they had many hours a day on their own. Working hard at schoolwork was their best endeavor between them. This arrangement emphasized the differences between their parents, who were immigrants from East Germany, and stopped the constant fighting.
Hartman’s mother was disciplined, organized, plain and controlled. She was trained as a technician and always wished she had more education so studied on her own. She had a small heart episode in her younger adult years, so walked regularly and ate an extremely healthy diet. It was during her older years on these walks that Hartman and her mother talked and became close.
It was during these walks, that her mother revealed that she was planning on committing suicide before her 70th birthday so that she could die with health, not become a burden to her children, and to have taken care of her “ things”. She was studied and organized. She did end her own life.
This knowledge became a psychological burden to her daughter, who became anxious about it, and with good sense began regular counseling sessions and group grief work. During her doctoral studies she even lived with her mother, and they found a closeness and understanding that was extraordinary.
Her father on the other hand was a bit more undisciplined. Yes, he had selected a Quaker retirement community / assisted living center and he purchased a condominium for when he was ready to downsize. But an early stroke, one of three made the decisions for him. He kept putting it off and not talking about his wishes, then had the first stroke, recovering enough to get into the condo only to have another massive stroke and lay of the floor undiscovered for several days.
The burden of care fell to the author as this stroke rendered a personality change into a person who was hard to control, excitable, anxious, belligerent and needed constant care.
The time line of her father’s story was often confusing, but in the end it did not matter; the ever present exhaustion and fatigue of the author fed into all the decisions she needed to make and the 4 days a week of driving to the centers to make decisions and support her father’s life. He was unclear about what he wanted and then medical people ignored the personal directives because they were unclear.
All the “stuff” had to be decided again and again. Her brother was helpful as he could be, but he had a family of his own and lived further away.
It is a beautiful life changing story and extremely personal. I believe the author’s social work background provided insights; the book was not full of research or programs or even advice, it was primarily just her story.
I believe we will be seeing more of these books as the baby boom generations dives into this area of their lives. I think death and taking care of seniors is going to be a huge issue; as folks shoulder more and more of the burdens and less and less of the joy of this part of life and living.
There was no discussion of a financial burden as part of this memoir.
Will your parent be organized or disciplined? Will your parent be willing to have the tough conversations? Where will the care funds come from and who will be responsible? Tough questions with no crystal ball on which to rely.
I am not going to rate this book on my scale because I think it is an important subject matter and folks will benefit from reading this personal story
I did receive a copy of this book from Vanderbilt University Press and TLC online book tours, but received no financial remuneration for the review.
If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s I will receive a few beans in my bucket.