Archive for February 1st, 2010

Welcome to the Departure Lounge by Meg Federico. Doubleday Canada, 2009.

A friend once told me that there is one thing you can count on when it comes to dealing with aging parents. No matter what you do, you’ll end up feeling guilty. Sadly, there seems to be considerable truth to this. It also seems to be guilt that motivates the writing of memories about caring for parents, or at least a need to come to grips with past injuries and failings on both sides.

Meg Federico describes how as an adult she attempted to sort things out with her Mom: “At last, Mother and I would reconcile! No more dragging around that old bag of guilty bones.” Alas, a lifetime of hurts are not so easily set aside. In Federico’s case, she does seem to have grounds for complaint. As a youngster, her mother once tied her hands and feet to the bed to prevent her from getting up after bedtime! Her wealthy family segregated the youngest children, having them eat meals with the the servants until they were old enough to take their place at the family table. Her exploration of her relationship with her mother is helpful in the way that looking at other people’s problems can help to shine a light on your own relationships.

The same applies to her examination of her mother’s declining mental and physical condition after she has a stroke. It is revealing to learn of the manner in which her mother continued to be indulged long after it was clear that her thought processes weren’t what they used to be. The relationship between Federico’s mother and her second husband, who is slipping ever-deeper into Alzheimer’s, is also of interest. In fact, there is much in Federico’s tale that other caregivers will be able to relate to.

While her Mom’s condition may be familiar to many readers, her circumstances as a very wealthy old woman certainly are not. I didn’t want to be shocked and judgmental over details of her mother’s life, but found it difficult to avoid. While most people in Meg’s circumstance, living a long way distant from her mother, would need to seek institutional help, Federico and her siblings are able to maintain their mother in her own home with the help of an incredible cast of caregivers, sometimes as many as eleven, at huge cost. I was amazed when Federico explains how her mother liked to fondle her treasure trove of jewelry. They kept the jewels, valued at over $100,000, in the house rather than removing most of the pieces to a safe location, and are hurt when it is discovered some member of the rather transient staff has absconded with most of the treasure. Yikes. They don’t make an insurance claim because it would be embarrassing to have the police arrive at the house. Then there is the trip to the art gallery, where her mother is accompanied by her low-paid staff while she blithely spends $120,000 on a painting to cheer herself up. Yikes again.

Federico complains that her mother’s friends don’t drop by to visit her, but there is no mention of making an effort to reach out to said friends, or visiting them. She is bitter that no one wants to come and read to her mother and she can’t find any non-profit organization with a reader program. I find it hard to believe that offering a local student scholarship money, or some other like arrangement, wouldn’t have turned up a reader.

Federico’s story relates her mother’s death as she passes away peacefully at home with her family in attendance and is buried. Federico is a competent writer and the book moves along at a comfortable pace. I found it interesting to read about factors of aging shared by everyone, while at the same time having a voyeur’s view of events that might be subtitled How the Rich Die.

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