Lynne Spreen's Reviews > Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House

Under One Roof by Barry Martin
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Jun 24, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: midlife

I loved this book. Could not put it down. It's a memoir, the story of an unlikely friendship between the superintendent of a massive construction project and the old woman who refuses to sell her tiny house that sits in the way of the project.

The superintendent, Barry, a likable man of fifty, meets Edith (she's in her early 80s) when he begins the project. On his first day, he goes around (what remains of) the neighborhood, introducing himself to the people who'll be impacted by the dust and noise. One day she calls his cell to say she needs a ride to her hairdresser, and Barry obliges.

Over the next three years, as she declines, he steps in, doing more and more for her (this is made at least somewhat more manageable by the fact that his office trailer is thirty feet from her door.) From making her breakfast and taking her to doctor appointments, he progresses to cooking all her meals and cleaning up after her when she falls and has accidents. Finally, he ends up shepherding her through her last days, fulfilling his promise to help her die at home rather than in "a facility," as she calls it.

There's so much in this story to love. Edith herself in her youth was an almost mythically heroic figure, and even now she's fiercely independent and a handful; Barry is the kind of guy you'd want for a son, dad, brother, but at times he blows his top trying to care for her; and his family and coworkers are all stand-up people. There are lessons aplenty in this book, which is well-written, well-paced, and well-edited. If you'll bear with me, I'd enjoy sharing a couple of passages with you.

On old people needing some autonomy and independence as they wane: When Edith finally allowed her condition to be diagnosed, although it was dire, she seemed happier, and Barry realized it was because "...now she was the boss again. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? If nothing else, she got to make the decisions, the big, big decisions. That is the one thing that diminishes as you get older - and the one thing that those of us who help out need to remember. They've spent their lives making enormous decisions about their own destiny, and the destinies of others...So to be given, one last time, the power over life and death...must be a very deeply reassuring feeling. More reassuring than life itself, I guess."

On the need to stand up to doctors and the health care industry: Barry says, "I handed the prescription to the girl behind the counter with a little sense of pride, like I was showing off a report card full of A's...I guess I've always been a little feisty when it comes to doctors, but I'd never had a real reason to confront one before. What do people do when there's no one to be an advocate for them?...It's not enough (when you're a caregiver) just to show up. You have to show up ready to fight."

I cried plenty toward the end of this book, which, although it's non-fiction, has a beautiful character arc. Barry learns about how to work with and respect the independence of older people just in time to help his own dad deal with impending Alzheimer's, and for this, he is so grateful to Edith. And for this book, I am grateful to the author.
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Reading Progress

June 24, 2014 – Shelved
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: midlife
June 27, 2014 – Started Reading
June 27, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Sandra (new) - added it

Sandra Nachlinger This sounds like an excellent book. Thank you for your thoughtful and in-depth review.


Lynne Spreen I so recommend it!


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