In November 2009 Jana Panarites was scrambling to make ends meet in LA. Her career spiraling out of control, she didn't think life could get any worse until she learned of her father's sudden death two days before Thanksgiving. She flew east for the funeral and was forced to confront her future head-on at the sight of her devastated eighty-year-old mother. After living her entire adult life in LA and New York City, the second generation Greek-American decided to move back into her childhood home in Maryland--determined to save her career and her one remaining parent. In Scattered: My Year As An Accidental Caregiver, Panarites takes readers on an unvarnished, hair-raising journey of reinvention, inspired by love and a dwindling bank account. Her tale of attempting to advance her career while attending to medical appointments, household chores, and a flood of grief-related emotions raises issues of family loyalty, the strain of caregiving, resilience, and the repercussions of a romantic marriage for those left behind after death. Fast-paced, compelling, and filled with dark humor despite the seriousness of the subject, Scattered sheds a much-needed light on the plight of baby boomers everywhere, eager to thrive in their own lives but put to the test by aging parents--and often unprepared for what lays ahead.
Jana Panarites' memoir starts with a bang and doesn't let up. With the sudden loss of her father, we are thrust into a new country of grief right along with the author. As she returns home at the age of 50, suddenly a caregiver, she finds the emotional terrain has shifted dramatically. Her mother is no longer the responsible parent she once was, and it takes time for that reality to set in. Jana's grief over her father's death and her care of her mother become intertwined as she finds her own footing. I was touched by the spirit of both mother and daughter as they made their way into a new world.
At the age of 50, the author returns from her precarious existence in L.A. where she is barely making ends meet with various part-time ventures and has maxed out her credits cards, to her childhood home in the D.C. area to live with her 80-year old mother after the death of her father. Her mother is grief stricken and barely able to get out of bed, and Panarites takes over the responsibility of caring for the house as well as her mother. Living with her mother would give her some time to focus on rebuilding her writing career. In fact, she made a deal with her siblings that she would be paid $2K per month to live in the house and care for their mother, which would allow her to pay down some of her credit card debt while she tried to establish her career. Thus, the book’s title “accidental caregiver” seems an odd choice; this was no accident – she chose to return home to care for her mother, but in reality it allowed her the opportunity to reboot also.
I enjoyed the author’s well developed, articulate writing style which elevates this book above most in the self-published genre; however I didn’t enjoy her constant complaints about how difficult it was to care for her mother who was showing early signs of dementia and how unappreciated she felt by her siblings. She wrote that “I realized no one in my family had ever openly acknowledged that taking care of my mother was a job. And it was much more demanding than any other job I’d ever had.” It’s not surprising that her siblings expected her to be the one to take care of mom – it’s what she was being paid to do. She lived there rent free and received a small salary as well. She even went on two all-expenses paid trips to Italy with her mother. Nevertheless, the unrelenting mental and physical burden of being the sole caretaker of a person who is no longer self-sufficient and deteriorating at a rapid pace cannot be trivialized.
After nearly a year of caring for her mother, she decides that she needs a nursing aide which eases her burden a bit. By the time she has been there for nearly two years, she convinces the family that selling the house and moving her mother into a care facility is the best course of action. And she decides to write a book about the experience.
The author summarized her care-giving experience: “It was the hardest time of my life, but also the most rewarding, because it gave my life meaning beyond anything I was striving for professionally.” By the end of the book, though I felt sympathy for her plight and the challenge of watching her mother grieve and deteriorate mentally and physically, I also felt a vague sense of unease that the author was not quite the selfless heroine of the story as she had portrayed herself.
A friend, not long ago, explained how losing your parents other than subjecting you to the excruciating emotional pain of missing loved ones, also causes an obscure distraught. It's quite perceptible when you lose one parent (even though you can't really pinpoint what it actually is), but it becomes more blatant when/if you lose both: it's the subconscious angst caused by losing your sense of belonging, your notion of "having roots" if you will, and the uneasiness of being alone in the world and having to completely redefine oneself. Reading through "Scattered: My Year As An Accidental Caregiver", sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter, the notion of what my friend had told me resonated and became, sadly, fathomable. In the writer's case, losing one parent physically and the other one mentally, and emotionally, called for an unprecedented self reassessment, on all levels imaginable (from relationships to lifestyle and career choices). Her sincere, outspoken, candid description of every-day challenges, agonies and concerns is eye-opening, to say the least! An enlightening presage on a poignant status, that we all need to be aware of.