In Welcome to the Departure Lounge, Meg Federico tells the alternately hilarious and heartfelt story of caring for her 80-year-old mother, suffering from dementia.
How did you come to write this memoir?
I started writing because the whole thing was so bizarre. Returning from taking care of my mother and her second husband [they lived in New Jersey; Federico lives in Nova Scotia], I would be exhausted and feeling unmasked—like going through a cosmic dry cleaner—so I started to keep a journal while waiting for flights endlessly delayed. I began to realize that the only way to tell this story was to share the incredible humor that was raining down on me, but I had to be careful not to caricature people.
Are we all destined to become laughingstocks in old age?
That whole end-of-life segment is really not on the list of stages we learn very much about—the challenges and what it might bring you. There is a vulnerability we will all have to face, one way or the other. I felt really lucky that I got to be with my mother through this time of her life when she was vulnerable because that's also when you can be intimate, so there is a kind of compensation there.
What did you learn about the word “competence” in dealing with the declining state of your mother?
Competency seems simple, but from a moral perspective, it isn't. On a family level, you want to be able to get your parents into a situation where you don't have to worry all the time, but you have to watch it, because you end up saying, “It would be good for them if....” But what you're really thinking is, what would be best for you. Sometimes that is legitimate, but it's a real ethical balancing act, often determined by the practical limits of people.
How relevant is this book for readers now?
I think there's going to be a whole shelf in the bookstores about taking care of your parents. We're so geared toward independence, and families are so dispersed and then you're forced to deal with stuff you haven't dealt with in a long time. There is a deep lack of inclusion in American culture; we're so segmented by age, driven by demographics, and the elderly are powerful only as voters and consumers. At a certain point, they become disenfranchised and invisible; the loss of identity is very frightening.