Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I'll Be Seeing You: A Memoir - Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth  Berg’s I’ll Be Seeing You is, I can tell you from recent experience, an accurate reflection of what it feels like to watch a parent become less and less capable of taking care of themself  over a number of years. If you are lucky enough to have a parent live into their late eighties and beyond, what Berg describes in this heartfelt memoir is inevitable. It is only a matter of time before child and parent are required to switch roles, and the formerly-protected becomes the protector. 


My favorite quotation, in fact, from I’ll Be Seeing You comes from the book’s prologue:


“I think as long as a parent is alive, it’s easier to feel young. It’s easy to feel that in some respects you are still being taken care of, even when it becomes more you who takes care of them.”


Berg takes the reader through almost a year of transition for her parents, October 2010-July 2011, during which they were forced to come to the realization that they could no longer live in the family home they had enjoyed together for four decades. As Berg and her siblings learned, however, realization comes a good bit before acceptance, and even after her parents have moved into an assisted living arrangement, they refuse to sell the family home because they still hope to return there someday. 


The experience that Berg describes is a very emotional one that was not helped by her father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The author was, I think, somewhat surprised by her mother’s resentment that if not for her husband’s mental problems, she, at least, would still be living at home. As her mother found it harder and harder to hide her feelings from her children, they began to resent the way she was treating their father - even, it seems, to worry about whether she was taking proper care of their father. Things were said, feelings hurt, and relationships damaged. 


The sad part is that all of it was perfectly normal, maybe even healthy in the long run. 


Those who have not experienced this situation yet with their own parents - and those in that situation right now - can benefit from a memoir like I’ll Be Seeing You because they will see that what they are feeling, but may be reluctant to say out loud, is all very normal. It is part of the cycle of life that none of us like to think about, but it is something that more and more of us are going to experience. So why not listen to what those who have already been there have to say?


I would have liked to have heard more from Berg’s sister, the child who lived close enough to their parents to be their day-to-day caretaker. The author is quick - and she does it several times - to credit her sister as being the one who went the extra mile for their parents. And that is good to see. Having been the “local” in my father’s case, I know that that experience is a completely different one from the one those who live hours away have. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, because the years I spent in that role brought me closer, and to a better understanding, of my parents than I would have otherwise ever managed. 


If you see this coming into your own life soon, do read I’ll Be Seeing You. It will help.


Elizabeth Berg

19 comments:

  1. I've read most of what Eliz Berg has written but for some reason the memoir didn't tempt me.

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    1. Diane, this is definitely not something you read for pleasure. It's sobering and even a little scary, but if you are ever in that situation, I do recommend it.

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  2. Reading your review of this made me think back to Being Mortal by Gawande, but I don't know how comparable they are. Maybe I will look at this one someday.

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    1. Gawande's book is much more about improving the way we handle end-of-life issues than this one. This memoir is one family's very personal experience with that problem.

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    2. Reading a personal perspective often makes things feel more real and relatable to me. I think I will add this one to my list, thanks Sam.

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    3. I wish I had read more about the experience before we went through it here, Jeane. Books like this one are good to prepare people for what is inevitable for so many of us.

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  3. What a heartfelt review, Sam. We both lived away from our parents, my husband and I, because he was a bank manager and years ago they used to move them around a *lot*. So we've not had the experience of looking after elderly parents and won't now because all parents have now passed away. We're going to experience it from the other point of view, that of the ones needing care. It concerns me a lot as I can see it starting already with our youngest daughter, who lives nearby, keeping an eye on us with this wretched pandemic. Hopefully once it's over it'll retreat a bit but it's on the horizon for the future I know it. I think it might be worth me reading this at some stage. Thanks for bringing it to our notice.

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    1. Cath, this book is very good, I think, for those of us who see this as a coming problem for our own children. Berg is pretty good at helping us see the same situation through the eyes of her parents as they went through this gut-wrenching experience. I do suppose though that dementia and the like make it impossible to read something like this and think you'll use the knowledge on yourself when the time comes. :-)

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  4. My dad is 82 and my mom is 78. They're both in relatively good health, but they're definitely getting frailer and more helpless. It won't be long before my siblings and I will be in the situation you describe and some tough decisions will have to be made. Sounds like this book has some good insight. I'll have to check it out.

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    1. Susan, I found it accurate and realistic. We went through some of the things described in the book as my wife and me dealt with three parents at the ends of their lives. It's an eye-opener for those who haven't been there yet, and I think it could make the experience, terrible as it is, at least a little easier.

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  5. For me, this wasn't the case. My father died when I was 20 and my mother when I was 25. No siblings. Now, in Tom's family I am seeing the side of being a child when parents are really old. His stepfather just died, a day before their 17th anniversary. Now she has to move into a smaller assisted living apartment. But before he died, there have been almost four years of watching degeneration of all kinds. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Nan, good luck. It is a difficult situation that can wear you down before you realize it. It was definitely life-changing for my wife and me to go through it with our parents. I don't dread the phone ringing anymore...although I still have flashbacks when I'm not thinking (not kidding).

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  6. It's been hard watching my mom age and lose ground a little bit more every year. Luckily, she's still all there mentally. But I know I don't have many more years with her, so I'm trying to enjoy each and every moment, you know?

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    1. Lark, if you don't read this one, do try to find something similar. It will help...I guarantee it.

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  7. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention, Sam. My father died at the age of nineteen when I was fourteen months old. Growing up, it was just me, my mother, and my maternal grandparents. When my mother died in 1995, it was just me and my grandfather, and we lived two thousand miles apart. He came out to live with me for a few years. I twice mentioned something that bothered me about Life With Grampa to trusted friends, things that hurt me that I wanted some perspective on. I was meant with stony silence as well as the opinion that there was something wrong with me for feeling the way I did. I never opened my mouth about anything like that again.

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    1. I am so sorry about those people. Very sad that they responded that way. Quite unbelievable really. Though it is easy for people to see things from the outside without really living inside a life.

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    2. Cathy, I think it's easy for people to make that kind of response to what you were going through if they haven't gone through it themselves...or read something like this book that tells it like it is. Guilt is part of the experience for all caretakers and it's a natural response. The people who said what they did to you are either saints, hypocrites, or they don't know a thing about what this experience is like.

      And that's why I think that books like this one are so important. If there were a required reading list for adults, this would be on it.

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  8. Been there and had my heart broken over and over. Watching parents who were so strong, so resilient, and so loving die slowly is hard. It was, perhaps, harder with my father who had AD. I don't know if I'm up to this book yet, but it does sound healing in spite of being sad.

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    1. Definitely healing, Jen, in the sense that it makes all you went through sound like the universal experience it really is. I never expected to go through this with three of the four parents (my mother died very suddenly at 75) we had between us, but reading this explained that what was happening to all of us was today's norm. The anger and resentment - on both sides- that sometimes happens during the experience, for instance, is so common that listening to Berg explain in detail what happened in her case, really made me think of the changes we experienced in our own relationships here. Sad as the book is, it is inspirational in a sense, also.

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