Friday, October 22, 1999
Book Review: 'Another Country'
In the land of Another Country, author, lecturer and clinician Mary Pipher explores the terrain of our elders. As a geriatric care manager and one not far removed from "elder," I felt compelled to read her latest book. If you are in the so called "sandwich generation," have parents, uncles or extended family spanning the ages of seventy through ninety, yes, even in the one hundreds, you will not be disappointed by this book. Shunning popular "psychobabble," Pipher writes in a low-key, everyday, easy-to-follow language. She writes from her heart and experience of working with elders and families in combination or alone: mothers and daughters, grandchildren or sons of distant fathers. She fills in with her own wonderful life lessons learned in Nebraska and gleaned from her own elder generation who lived nearby.
The author notes that in a busy, divided culture where youth is constantly feted, the old and young do not always speak the same language. She points out that the older generation have lived through the Depression, have saved for a rainy day and often think and talk in a linear fashion. We, the adult children, come from a psychologized culture, look for the hidden meaning and sometimes feel our parents are "in denial" when they don't confront "the issue." Pipher emphasizes our need to listen to each other, to ask questions about what it was like walking three miles to school, growing up without television, but depending on your neighbors. Pipher's families lived in the rural Midwest where people were linked by community, extended family, for support. Beloved stories, jokes, dances, humor and Bingo were the highlights of many a long winter evening.
Having just left a more than hectic, frequently overwhelming job, I now know why my mother-in-law used to say, "You are always so busy." She came to us for holidays wanting to talk, to tell of Christmas mornings long ago when the gift of one orange with its pungent smells was a highlight of the year. This book made me appreciate how our generation must have looked to hers and to reflect on my own family stories.
Many families today are struggling with how to care for aging, frail parents. They often live in different states, elders who won't leave home but who are desperately alone and at risk. Their wish to remain independent is strong but they are enduring the loss of friends, sight and hearing. Yet the author notes some case histories of elders with great resiliency, the result of having lived through painful, difficult times. Those with good coping skills, who know how to live each day looking for the bright spots keep the best mental health. The author's description of these scenarios and her empathy for both generations is obvious. For those who are feeling the stress of stretching to aid an elder, there are scenarios in this book with which one can empathize and feel supported. For the reader of the parent with newly diagnosed Alzheimer's Disease, to the across-the-country situation where one feels helpless to intervene, knowing that someone else is experiencing a similar situation is helpful.
The recipes are not here. One has to be creative in coping with each individual situation and we are all built differently in what our emotions can handle. For some, seeking the expertise of a person such as Mary Pipher can be helpful while for others coping day to day is a more practical style.
Sprinkled through her chapters that deal with spirituality, end-of-life issues and connectedness, Mary Pipher includes many wise sayings not only from sages but from her clients. She confirms that what people want most is to be remembered, to have lived a meaningful life and to "'Grow whole,' a much better way to describe aging than 'growing old'" (writer Mark Gerson). I feel that the reader can pick up this book, briefly or at length, and gain something useful personally as well as for his or her parents and children. Pipher is reminding us of our need for attachment, for relaxation and humor, our wisdom in developing a caring attitude toward the preceding generation in a rushed society. I invite you to try her book to see if it engages you as it did me!
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito