I should have loved this book. Or at least liked it. Instead, I really had to keep myself from sending that motherfucker to the trash. Maybe if I wasn’t a caregiver myself, I could go and reread this and not be annoyed, sickened, or pissed off. Instead, in alternate points throughout, I was a little of all. This book is out now, via Flatiron books. I also thought I was going to like it because the author warns the reader that the book is not for the weak of heart and those who are easily put off by four-letter words. NOTHING could be further from the truth! The swearing and graphic nature of some of the things Marshall writes about didn’t turn me off of this at all. Instead, the problem was the way that Marshall writes of his journey into the hard, often sad and devastating, but often rewarding parts of caregiving. Here’s my personal, honest opinion before I go into the synopsis of the book. If you didn’t have your parents and they didn’t raise you to be the misunderstood, but upstanding citizen you grow into, none of us would be having this conversation. If your parents decline into terminal or long-lasting illness, more times than not, they will need your help. If they could wipe your ass when you were a kid, you most certainly can do the same for them when they grow old and are no longer able to do so. If they had to clean up puke and give you showers, you should be ready to do the same for them. They give birth and raise you, and then they regress to children themselves, and the roles of child into caregiver and the parent into the role of a young child who needs your help more than you could ever predict, reverse. And you should have no problem helping them into their final years. Or.. if you’re going to write about it, have some compassion and understanding- even if in your normal everyday life you’re a giant douchebag- for the parents and what they are going through. The loss of things they have been able to do themselves their whole lives, the loss of freedom to live their life freely without recompense, and ultimately, their humiliation for these everyday changes and having no control over them whatsoever, is largely disheartening and devastating for most of our elderly parents. Caregiving is the toughest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far, but there are moments where it’s so worth it. I’m from a family that doesn’t communicate well (or until it’s too late), but there was nothing wrong with my dad using the four letter word or grabbing my mom’s ass in front of us. Everything was open, and there was no shame in our house with four letter words, 12 year olds smoking cigarettes in the upstairs bedroom while listening to Madonna’s “True Blue” album, the 12 year old covering up for the 11 year when they drank a few of their dad’s Old Milwaukee’s Best stash, etc. I had a very liberating and open childhood. My mom was kind of a hippie in many regards, and overly emotional and overthinking to the max. My dad is chill now as he was then and not very emotional at all, but he can no longer help me fix everything I destroy. He cannot do anything without my help. And as open minded as he is, you can see the pain on his face, and it can be heard in his voice, as often as he tells others that very fact. I joke at times, but that time is past- shut the fuck up and help your parent if they need you to. Write a book about how much you love him, even if you have to clean him up after he shits his pants. Write a book about how the experience has shaped you as a person, not about how much weight you put on because you drink yourself into omission amid avoiding reality (Year 1- 2012-2013-that was me. You can see it in pictures). We’ve been there, most of us, in some regard. But write a book that shows your humanity and that of your family, and not makes the reader want to punch you in the face.
This book made me want to punch Mr. Marshall in the face. There are no punches pulled as far as his inability to accept his new role and his father’s demise at the hands of the bastard Lou Gehrig’s Disease. There is the hope that by the end of the memoir, he will have grown a little and the reader will feel more of a kinship for him and his family as they watch his father wearing away. I didn’t even mention- Marshall’s mom is undergoing chemo for another bout of cancer when the bomb is dropped on her husband. They call Dan and inform him, and like most with a terminal illness diagnosis, he hopes and thinks it can’t be that bad. So he stays in LA with his new job, his girlfriend, drinking and living the life. His first trip home, he sees a bit of a difference, but blithely shrugs off the requests of help from his siblings and goes back out. The second visit home, he realizes that his help is needed. He takes a leave of absence from his job, leaves his girl and roommate out there, and heads home. It’s not hearts and flowers, kids, but terminal illness never is. I give high marks for Marshall’s blunt portrayal of ALS and its evils, then wonder why he gives his mom shit most of the book for only being able to hold yogurt down through chemo. I give him high marks for not mincing words about how bad his father’s illness affects his body and that he now has to help him shower, urinate, and shit, yet wonder why he makes a point to call out his mom’s often confusing conversations with him and his siblings (they call it “chemo brain”) throughout the book. I give him marks for accepting his father’s decision regarding the end process of life, but then he rips his mom’s overusing Fetanyl patches for her physical and emotional pain as her husband’s decision starts to kick in. There is a lot of swearing throughout the book, often it feels like Marshall is overwriting that angle of the book for the fact that he has identified himself and his family as a bunch of potty-mouthed sassy pants peeps. OK, I got that right off the bat, but drop it down a notch, buttmunch. Yes, buttmunch. My four letter words never stop, but they have dropped down a bit. I also thought the more that Marshall cared for his dad, the more I would care for him. Instead, by the end of the book, I was annoyed. There wasn’t a lot of “I give a shit” about the author by the end. He comes across as whiny, selfish, and giving himself a blue ribbon for every single thing that’s accomplished. That’s important, don’t get me wrong, but not so much that you spend the entire book patting yourself on the back. I felt the family as a whole were a strong solitary unit, especially toward the last part of the book. But overall, it hurt me to read this. A great deal. My father is still struggling day by day, I’m still working full time and caring for him full-time, and there are MANY hard days and nights. Holidays suck, but they’re bearable because my sister comes over to eat with us and helps take the load off of me. But a day does not go by where I miss the way things were, the way they used to be, how I used to be able to be gone hours at a time drinking and gallivanting without a care in the world. But here’s the thing- I grew the fuck up and sacrificed that part of my personality to the linen closet until the time when my father makes his next transition and I am back to alone. Then, and only then, will I feel like I can breathe and find myself again. You can live a semblance of a life while being a full-time caregiver, but a lot of your leisure time goes out the fucking window. Marshall does an excellent job of pointing this out, again and again. And he’s right. However, nothing is more important than family. Especially when they are battling terminal illness and need you. My personal take? All of those bars and bad dates awaiting me? They can stuff it until a time down the road when that window opens up again. Right now, those shutters are closed and I’m inside attending to those who need to be kept warm. Marshall still finds time to have some idle pursuits, but you’re made to feel like it’s a huge sacrifice on his part. And that, dear reader, was another reason I had a hard time giving a rat’s ass about Marshall’s take on it.
This is a book that is poignant at moments, heartbreaking in other moments, and funny in parts, but overall, it’s a story that is taking place all around you. Trying to cast humor into something that is hard and sad is not easy, but it has been done to better effect (read Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”- and Alysa Abbott’s “Fairyland”- THOSE two memoirs are much better than this one, on similar footholds) than here. Marshall comes across as trying to hard to make this very sad story funny, and when the ball doesn’t land on the right side of the court, we’ll swear and throw in some vulgarity to make it flow better. Sadly, it doesn’t work. At all.