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So Far Away By ~Christine W. Hartmann

So Far Away - TLC tour info

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

Related Reading:
AARP Planning Guide for Talking with Parents (AARP)
The Long Goodbye
The Smartest Women I Know
The Art of Racing in the Rain

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.

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If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s I will receive a few beans in my bucket.

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13 Responses to “So Far Away By ~Christine W. Hartmann”

  1. Deborah Barker Says:

    Oh Patricia, what a powerful story and what a great synopsis you have given here. I must tell you a short tale. In mid November, my husband and I discussed this subject. He wanted to raise it with my mother – she is more than welcome to live with us when the time comes though at the moment, she is independent and in good health for the most part. We also discussed my widowed sister’s situation, she with the 28 year old son with Aspergers and other problems, and her concerns for his welfare should anything happen to her. She had raised this subject at our last visit.
    Ironically, my sister, a young 57, suffered a massive stroke two weeks ago from which she did not recover. She died just over a week ago. Due to her thoughtfulness, her son will be well cared for and with our help, receive the support he needs. She had visited her solicitor only a week before the tragic event and amended her will, and set up trusts for him. We are, as you can imagine, all in shock right now but your post today makes me realise that as well as making sure your elderly parents have made their wishes known, we should all take a little time to make our own known too.
    The week we have just spent at my sister’s bedside, was exhausting but dealing with the myriad forms and official procedures that apply to her son has been greatly eased by her forethought.
    Thank you.
    Deborah Barker recently posted..Another Embarrassing Moment – repeatMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Deborah,
    I have heard so many of these stories of the gifts of communication and planning since my mother’s death 3 years ago. We must have these conversations and not keep ignoring them – then our loving can continue on in ways that keep our spirit alive and well.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and I am so sorry for your loss – surprise loss – I know how tough that can be and emotional…..but what a wonderful gift she gave by sharing her wishes and hopes. Nothing can match her planning and communication – nothing.

  2. Talon Says:

    Patricia, as always, you write such wonderful reviews. It’s a great reminder that we should discuss and be prepared to deal with all the things that come along with aging – for our parents, our significant others, ourselves…

    Much food for thought.
    Talon recently posted..Death of a tree…My Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Talon,
    One of the members of my church lost her daughter at Christmas vacation of her first year of college. The parents were amazed that their daughter had several times in her life written in her journals about her plan for her death – and they honored her wishes and took care of their own needs..

    Death can come at anytime…I think it is part of making wills as soon as one reaches adulthood, so that others know about their lives and how to deal with their loss.

    I feel as though this book was a reminder about planning and how fabulous that can make life be…the power of choice
    Yes, much food for thought.

  3. Melody | Deliberate Receiving Says:

    This brings up some interesting questions, Patricia. I mean, do only the elderly have to plan for death? If I had an accident tomorrow, my family wouldn’t really know how to get my affairs in order. I live in a foreign country, by myself, so they don’t know about my accounts, rental agreement, etc. I suppose it would be wise to get some kind of plan together at any age…

    It’s so interesting how afraid we are of death, so much so that we put off dealing with it, especially our own. If we plan for death, we somehow fear that we’ve given it permission to enter. Like it’s a demon we have to keep at bay. We are all going to die. No big deal. But I agree, we should try to decrease the burden on the family. We make arrangements before going on a trip. Why not do so for the ultimate trip?

    Hugs!
    Melody
    Melody | Deliberate Receiving recently posted..Good Grief! How To Deal With Grief and Those Who Are GrievingMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Melody,
    I am a tremendous goal setter and planner and I agree with you whole heartedly.

    I made a will the moment I got my first job and put lots of directives into it…every time my life makes a major change or a I learn new things I spend the $400 and have the will changed.

    I am working on leaving a paper trail for my children, because my partner refuses to figure out or do anything with money – well he buys his bikes and food…and now an oven….but he does not consider money when making a purchase, he just sets his sites on what he wants – especially what it will look like or how energy efficient it is…

    I think planning for death is a talisman….and the author’s mother planning her suicide when she is health truly made others uncomfortable, but it was a clean choice for her mother.
    She had left her when she was 9 also and then had a separate relationship with her children – they are not so dependent or controlled.

    Wow what great additions all the comments, including yours are making to this post.

    I think the word response-ability comes to mind here again…wholeness, victim, blame…all come to mind along with the fear thingy

    Patricia Reply:

    Melody,
    You new post is excellent and just is such a match with this theme – even though you are not really including death in your grief exercise

  4. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia .. great post – certainly the more we can read about the various ‘things’ that can strike us down and prepare as best we can .. from Deborah’s 57 year old sister, to my mother’s Manager of her Care Home – who dropped dead of bowel cancer … very unexpected … as it happened .. she certainly didn’t go into hospital not expecting to not come out. We just never know ..

    We just get some appreciation of other aspects of life – through these books, and also through the comments of relevant blog posts ..

    Thanks for introducing us to Hartman .. life is interesting to say the least – preparedness helps .. cheers Hilary
    Hilary recently posted..Tea Bags!My Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Hilary,
    I think preparation is vitally important in so many aspects of life.

    I can not tell you how many people do not have wills or even plan their shopping trips for groceries. I am amazed

    But in the area of death – universally we are very lax and now that churches are not in charge the free market is making the most of it…

  5. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours Says:

    I think you’re right, many people need to read this book and to think about their own parents’ future. Thanks for taking the time to read this powerful memoir for the tour.

    Patricia Reply:

    Thank You to TLC for keeping me up to date with so many interesting and valuable books to read

    Thanks for coming by Heather

  6. Sam Juliano Says:

    This is indeed a moving and resonant review of a book I have not read, but am more than intrigued by. Somehow I was thinking of Sparks’ THE NOTEBOOK here, at least to a degree, but by any barometer of measurement it’s a piercing look at old age and relationships that has won its place in the affections of many readers, yourself included. It really is a lovely treatment Patricia.
    Sam Juliano recently posted..Machine Gun Lullaby: “Road to Perdition” on Page and ScreenMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Sam Juliano,
    The Notebook by Sparks was a very lovely, romantic piece of fiction – this book is a memoir of a daughter’s real time life in caring for her parents as they aged and died. Tending to the details ( she did leave out finances, which I from my experience were a huge part of the process too)

    It is a memorable study and very interesting. Many of my commenter today are right in the middle of dealing with these issues – so it touched a great many heart strings

    Thank you for your kind words – it means a great deal to me.

    I am doing another movie review next Thursday – I really had to go through some hoops for this one!