Breaking Out of Bedlam

As many of you may be aware, the baby boomer generation is going to be the longest living generation as of yet. We are about to face the largest geriatric population we have ever had, and we do not have the necessary infrastructure in place to appropriately respond to this impending public health issue.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” is very relevant to this broader discussion of living while aging. Too often, in this ableist society, we write people off the moment they become disabled in anyway. This happens across all age groups, but it disproportionately occurs with individuals who are older since aging does usually cause a loss of ease and function. And because of our ableism and ageism we have a tendency to think that once you are considered old, you can’t live life; you just live to live, until death comes knocking at your door.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” is a perfect example of a book that challenges the notion that life stops once you are over the hill. Through the main character, you get to experience the renewal on life that occurs once you let go of the past.

Cora, the main character, is quite a treat and I appreciated the author’s ability to make her into a real person. Cora does not fit the stereotypical idea of what a “grandma” is. She is not sweet, she is not quiet, and she is not complacent. Although she has lost a lot of agency in her life, due to her addiction and health conditions, she musters the strength to regain this agency and demands (rather connives) to get what she wants.

I know that I do not regard my grandma to be a real person at times. What I mean by that is that I forget she has thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, desires, etc. outside of being my grandma. She has a past that I don’t know about, and can’t hope to ever understand, and she continues to have wants and needs as she grows older that should be respected.

With the destruction of the extended and nuclear family unit, the care of the elderly is being shifted to private and public entities, rather than the family unit. There is nothing necessarily wrong or right about this pattern, it is just where society seems to be heading. However, given that seems to be where the progression is, we need to re-conceptualize our ideas of the elderly. If we are not willing to take responsibility for them, and we leave them to fend for themselves (with some help), then we need to continue to allow them to make decisions for themselves.  Allow them to maintain some independence, agency, and self-dignity.

“Breaking Out of Bedlam” hits the nail on the head on the discourse of how do we care for our aging family members while respecting their wishes. I appreciated that this book was written from the perspective of Cora, instead of maybe her daughter or other children. The older generation still have a voice, and too often, their voice and perspective is forgotten. I believe that is a huge reflection of our culture’s tendency to want to hide the elderly away and forget about them.

The author’s inclusion of the dynamics of her relationship with her children added an additional dimension to the story, that I very much appreciated. Cora’s relationship with her children wasn’t perfect, which she was fully conscious of it. The insight provided as to why Cora was disconnected from her children helps the reader to sympathize with her. Too often mother’s are harshly judged on their capabilities at being a “good mother”. At the end of the day our mothers are just people too, with their own failings and shortcomings. Not every mom is going to be perfect, and some women will fit into the role better than others. Just like any job, some people have more of an aptitude for it than others, and there is nothing wrong with it. Cora is a perfect example of this. Does this mean she couldn’t have tried to be a better mom? Of course not. But I think it is important to understand why she couldn’t be the best mom she could be, and Leslie Larson does an amazing job of revealing the reasons to the reader.

Reading this was just generally fun, so if you are looking for a nice, easy read, I highly recommend. I also, obviously, appreciate that this book is a commentary on very relevant issues; not only impeding public health issues but interpersonal issues.

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