In a memoir told with grace, poignancy and humour, the author chronicles her years of managing the care of her elderly parents as together they slipped into dementia—from a chaotic Christmas, to an addled father who insists on driving, to calls to the police, to trips to the hospital, to a high-priced care facility that lost track of her stepmother. At age 55, author Martha Vowles became a first-time parent. Her new charges were reckless, accident-prone, pig-headed, over 80 years old and bigger than her.
About the author
Martha Vowles was born and brought up in rural Québec, along the Ottawa River, surrounded and nourished by Québecois and English culture and language and has lived in Atlantic Canada since the late 1970s. She served as a hospital-based speech-language pathologist for over thirty years. Now in semi-retirement, she finds inspiration for her writing in nature, people and their relationships, and the commonplace events of day-to-day life. She lives beside the St. John River in Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick with her husband, William Toner, and a menagerie of rescued dogs and cats.
Excerpt: Senior Management: Parenting My Parents (by (author) Martha Vowles)
I’m not sure when my aversion to the telephone started. Perhaps it was with Auntie Gwenyth’s calls. Sometimes she would start the conversation with “Have you spoken to your father recently?” Those words became a signal that she had something worrisome to tell me—something that would niggle at the back of my mind. That’s what happened on a night in late October 2007, just as I was getting ready to walk the dogs. As I slipped into my jacket and rooted around in the hall closet for my gloves, the phone rang. I sighed. I could let it go to voice mail, but it might be about choir practice. Reluctantly, I picked it up. “Hello, dear,” said a perky, low-pitched voice. At eighty-two, my dad’s younger sister had a sharp wit and strong opinions on topics that ranged from fashion to politics. “Have you talked to your dad and Joan lately? I hear you’re going up to visit them.” “Yes. We’re going to spend Christmas with Bill’s family this year, so I’m planning a pre-Christmas visit.” “Oh, that’s nice. But have you talked to them about the details?” “Uh-huh. Several times, in fact.” “Well, that’s odd. Your father didn’t seem to know anything about it. You’d better call him and go over it again.” It certainly was odd. In the past few years I had made an annual late autumn trip from my home in New Brunswick to the Ottawa River Valley to visit my father and Joan, my stepmother. We had talked about my plans for a visit in November. Both Dad and Joan sounded excited that I was coming and were sorry Bill couldn’t take the time off work. It was a little over a year after Bill and I became a couple. They were delighted that, in my fifties, I had finally met a man who had son-in-law potential. The evening after my conversation with Auntie Gwenyth, I got a call from Auntie Marjorie, the youngest in Dad’s family, who lives near Montréal. “Hello, dear. I hear you’re coming for a visit. Would you like to come over after your dad picks you up at the airport? What time does your flight get in?” I explained that I’d be taking the overnight bus to Lachute and would pick up a rental car there. “That’s funny. Your dad and Joan both told me you’d be flying and they’d have to pick you up at the airport.” She sounded puzzled. Then Dad called. “When is it you’re coming?” he said. “Are you flying?” “No, Dad. I thought we talked about this.” “So, we don’t need to go to the airport to pick you up?” I struggled to quell my impatience as I went over the details again. “Dad, why don’t you write this down?” “I did, but I don’t know what I did with the note. It’s on a slip of yellow paper somewhere.” I could hear him rustling papers and breathing unevenly into the phone. A mental image of their kitchen table, perpetually cluttered with junk mail, phone and electricity bills, and grocery lists, took form.
Martha Vowles has written a tender and heart wrenching account of her experience navigating the many "systems" involved in that end of life care for our aging population. Not only was she navigating all aspects of that care for her father and step-mother, but also she was doing it between two provinces which makes the job of advocate that much more difficult. I was struck again and again at the disconnect between agencies that claim they are doing all they can to help families cope and manage this stage of life. Again and again Martha ran into road blocks and obstacles that threatened to overwhelm her in her pursuit of the best and safest care for her aging parents. Agencies and governments pay lip service to the "rights" of individuals to receive the best end of life care. What they fail to accomplish is a cohesive and co-ordinated plan to provide that care. Martha Vowles shows this poignantly and incredibly sadly in this memoir. I admire the author's strength under enormous pressures.
Lana Shupe-Atlantic Book Reviews