Sunday, June 12, 2016

More investigative journalism, and reverie

kw: article reviews, nonfiction, fiction, essays, collections, anthologies, magazine writing

It took no more than a couple of days to finish reading The Best American Magazine Writing 2015, edited by Sid Holt. To avoid further disturbing my sleep, I did more of the reading in the second half of the volume during the days! Articles worth special mention:

  • Love and Ruin by James Vernini, first published in The Atavist. At 52 pages, this is probably the longest. It chronicles the lives of Nancy and Louis Dupree during their decades in Afghanistan, and the turmoils of that poor nation from 1949 onward. In 1978 Louis was expelled, but surveyed the Russia-Muhajideen war during frequent visits to Pakistan. Some say he participated in training anti-Russian fighters. But the memoir is more about Nancy, who carried on after his death in 1989. She became a beloved mother figure to many in Afghanistan, where she continues to spend part of her time even at age 89. It is a very touching survey of the changes she has seen, too frequently tragic and too seldom hopeful, in a country the world will not leave alone.
  • Jackie's Goodbye by Tiffany Stanley, first published in National Journal. The author's aunt Jackie began to manifest symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia in her fifties. She was cared for by her increasingly over-stressed brother—the author's father—until 2012 when he suffered heart failure and Ms Stanley had to take over the care of both of them, but primarily of Jackie. Amidst a heartbreaking story of her aunt's decline and death after little more than two more years, Ms Stanley frankly describes the heartbreakingly banal indifference of every facet of the "health care" industry to these most needy ones. While many assisted-living and nursing-home facilities have "dementia care" units with very caring, and sometimes even well-trained nurses, few can afford to pay $6,000 - $9,000 per month. If you can't afford that, you're on your own. There is a big, big gap between "not affording" such horrendous costs, and being so totally broke that Medicaid will pay. But while awaiting Medicaid approval, from a few months to a year, you are still on your own. You can't take the time to hold a job to make the money to pay a half-time helper and still keep your own sanity together. Far too many places will admit someone who cannot show sufficient assets to pay for at least the first six or more months' residence. This touches a chord with me: my father spent half his net worth hiring caregivers during the last few years of my mother's life. He had seen what a supposedly "good" nursing home was like when his uncle had to be in one for his last few months. Dad was determined that his own wife would never enter such a place. She didn't. But he was in pretty poor shape by the time she died. Somehow, the little help my three brothers and I could offer, none of us living closer than a day's drive or a day's plane ride away, could suffice to give him more than a day or part of a day of respite. One of my mother's caregivers, a lovely woman named Mary, bonded with Mom so much that she had a nervous breakdown near the end of Mom's life and needed care herself. She got out of the nursing/caregiving field entirely.
  • This Old Man by Roger Angell, first published in The New Yorker. Roger Angell is 93 (maybe 94 now), and wrote of how things really are for him. You could call this 16-page piece an extended answer to, "How are you?" The short answer is, "Not too bad, not too good." He writes about the paradox that many of the very aged are happier than those a generation younger; of the growing invisibility of the elderly, as if the young think, "You've had your turn. We'll be polite, but we don't care what you think"; about sex and companionship, which makes those who are "only 50-60" or so very squeamish: what, we're supposed to become neuters at some defined age? Ask my 94-year-old Dad about that; he wishes he could return to the facility he stayed at until early this year, where he had a girlfriend, and he still phones her almost daily. Her 100th birthday was last week. She craves his company also. I remember, when I was 35 and Dad was 60, asking him, "What is it like to be 60?" (It seemed pretty old to me at the time). He said, "It is pretty much like being 25, except things take longer. Now that I am just a little shy of 70, I agree. The mind and our attitudes don't change much, and because our body changes gradually, we get used to it, if a little chagrined sometimes. Should I live to be 95 or so, I hope to do it with the grace of Roger Angell and the vigor of my father. When Dad says, "Don't get old," I reply, "It beats the alternative." We both know it is true.

I applaud Sid Holt and his helpers on this and the prior volumes in the series, for gathering articles that make me think, make me feel strongly (sometimes against my will), and make me say, "I'm glad I read that."

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