Monday, May 2, 2016

Picturing dementia: empathy, insights, and the occasional belly laugh

[One of Chast's unforgettable cartoons]
Some 25 years ago my parents and one of their best friends, Gertrude, started showing signs of dementia. As their conditions worsened, Gertrude’s daughter Ann and I began trading morbid geriatric jokes. Laughing helped us face the daily struggles of caregiving: it felt so much better than crying.

 In 2014, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast published a graphic memoir about her aging parents that would have been perfect for Ann and me. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?... is often improbably funny. Its comic-strip presentation is poignantly true to life: frazzled caregivers will recognize themselves on every page, and they may also see aspects of their parents in Chast’s clueless father and ferocious mother. Chast’s drawings let us cry, and then they make us laugh—sometimes simultaneously.

These are the opening paragraphs of "Picturing Dementia," my double review - of Chast's book, and also of Dana Walrath's Aliceheimer's - in the May 11, 2016, issue of Christian Century

You can read the whole review online (and see more brilliant drawings by Chast and Walrath) at

I hope you will. If someone you love has dementia, you probably need these books.