We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Living in the Land of Limbo

Fiction and Poetry about Family Caregiving

Carol Levine

Publication Year: 2014

Living in the Land of Limbo is the first anthology of short stories and poems about family caregivers. These men and women find themselves in "limbo," as they struggle to take care of a family member or friend in the uncertain world of chronic illness. The authors explore caregivers' experiences as they deal with family conflicts, the complexities of the health care system, and the impact of their choices on their lives and the lives of others. The book includes selections devoted to caregivers of aging parents; husbands and wives; ill children; and relatives, lovers, and friends. A final section is devoted to paid caregivers and their clients. Among the conditions that form the background of the selections are dementia, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, and pediatric cancer.

Many of the authors are well-known poets and writers, but others have not been published in mainstream media. They represent a range of cultural backgrounds. Although their works approach caregiving in very different ways, the authors share a commitment to emotional truth, unvarnished by societal ideals of what caregivers should feel and do. These stories and poems paint profoundly moving and revealing portraits of family caregivers.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (67.5 KB)
pp. ii-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF (46.0 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.6 KB)
pp. ix-xii

Some books seem to move almost effortlessly from idea to printed page. This is not that sort of book. Over the many years that I collected the selections that appear here (and many others that do not), there were long periods when I felt unable to move forward because of the stresses...

read more

Introduction: Family Caregivers in Fiction and Poetry

Carol Levine

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.9 KB)
pp. 1-6

If birth and death are universal, the experience of caring for someone with a chronic or terminal illness is nearly so. Despite a pervasive myth of family abandonment, most people are accompanied and cared for through illness or disability by relatives, friends, and others close to them. These caregivers—...

read more

Part I. Children of Aging Parents

pdf iconDownload PDF (69.9 KB)
pp. 7-10

The typical family caregiver—as portrayed over and over in the media— is a forty-something woman taking care of a parent (or two) who has young or teenage children and a full-time job. Through it all she gives credit to her patient husband and says it is a blessing to take care of...

read more

1. Diem Perdidi

Julie Otsuka

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.5 KB)
pp. 11-18

She remembers her name. She remembers the name of the president. She remembers the name of the president’s dog. She remembers what city she lives in. And on which street. And in which house. The one with the big olive tree where the road takes a turn. She remembers what year it is. She remembers the season. She remembers the day on which you were born. She remembers...

read more

2. Whosoever: The Language of Mothers and Sons

Rick Moody

pdf iconDownload PDF (94.4 KB)
pp. 19-27

Whosoever knows the folds and complexities of his own mother’s body, he shall never die. Whosoever knows the latitudes of his mother’s body, whosoever has taken her into his arms and immersed her baptismally in the first-floor tub, lifting one of her alabaster legs and then the other over its...

read more

3. The Third Dumpster

Gish Jen

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.7 KB)
pp. 28-34

Goodwin Lee and his brother Morehouse had bought it at auction, for nothing. Even the local housing shark had looked down at his list and frowned and pinched or maybe itched his nose, but then waved his hand to clarify: no bid. The house was a dog. However, it had a bedroom on the...

4. Water

Li-Young Lee

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.9 KB)
pp. 35-37

5. Lucky

Tony Hoagland

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.5 KB)
pp. 38-39

6. Fathers and Sons

David Mason

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.2 KB)
pp. 40

7. Yesterday

W. S. Merwin

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.4 KB)
pp. 41-42

8. Ode to Meaning

Robert Pinsky

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.5 KB)
pp. 43-45

9. Buckdancer’s Choice

James Dickey

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.4 KB)
pp. 46-47

10. Where the Groceries Went

Raymond Carver

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.2 KB)
pp. 48-50

read more

Part II. Husbands and Wives

pdf iconDownload PDF (57.9 KB)
pp. 51-54

Part of the traditional marriage ceremony is the vow each partner makes to take care of each other “in sickness and in health.” It is appropriate that “in sickness” comes first, because illness or disability challenges marriages in profound ways. Illness upsets the existing emotional, financial...

read more

11. Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year

Mary Gordon

pdf iconDownload PDF (87.5 KB)
pp. 55-62

Mr. Cassidy knew he couldn’t go to Communion. He had sinned against charity. He had wanted his wife dead. The intention had been his, and the desire. She would not go back to bed. She had lifted the table that held her breakfast (it was unfair, it was...

read more

12. We Are Nighttime Travelers

Ethan Canin

pdf iconDownload PDF (105.0 KB)
pp. 63-75

Where are we going? Where, I might write, is this path leading us? Francine is asleep and I am standing downstairs in the kitchen with the door closed and the light on and a stack of mostly blank paper on the counter in front of me. My dentures are in a glass by the sink. I clean them with a...

13. The Ship Pounding

Donald Hall

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.3 KB)
pp. 76-77

14. The Sick Wife

Jane Kenyon

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.1 KB)
pp. 78

15. Alzheimer’s: The Wife for Renée Mauger

C. K. Williams

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.2 KB)
pp. 79

16. Alzheimer’s: The Husband for Jean Mauger

C. K. Williams

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.6 KB)
pp. 80

read more

17. The Bear Came Over the Mountain

Alice Munro

pdf iconDownload PDF (150.2 KB)
pp. 81-104

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish. Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman...

read more

18. Thoreau’s Laundry

Ann Harleman

pdf iconDownload PDF (120.5 KB)
pp. 105-119

The morning’s first client—she never called them patients—appeared on the list as Junius Johns. This was followed by the usual basics: M, 8, left ear, AA. Sex, age, presenting problem, origin (auto accident). In the margin a penciled notation from Edwin, her receptionist, read: “Mad Mom ...

19. The Yawn

Rachel Hadas

pdf iconDownload PDF (59.8 KB)
pp. 120

20. Mrs. Dumpty

Chana Bloch

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.1 KB)
pp. 121

21. Visiting Hours Are Over

Chana Bloch

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.4 KB)
pp. 122

read more

22. He Read to Her

Anne Brashler

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.3 KB)
pp. 123-126

She locked the bathroom door, sprayed the small closed room with lemon odor, then removed her robe. The colostomy bag was full and leaking; brown stains seeped down her belly and across old scars, new scars, old stretch marks. Her stomach looked like a map of dirt roads. “Crap,” she...

read more

Part III. Parents and Sick Children

Parents expect to take care of their children through the ordinary illnesses, accidents, and vagaries of childhood and adolescence. Sometimes, however, the demands of this sphere of caregiving go beyond what all parents experience into the realm of what no parent wants to...

read more

23. How to Win

Rosellen Brown

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.4 KB)
pp. 129-140

All they need at school is permission on a little green card that says, Keep this child at bay. Muffle him, tie his hands, his arms to his ankles, anything at all. Distance, distance. Dose him. And they gave themselves permission. They never even mentioned a doctor, and their own certified bureaucrat in tweed...

read more

24. People Like That Are the Only People Here

Lorrie Moore

pdf iconDownload PDF (163.8 KB)
pp. 141-166

A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither. The whole thing is like a cloud that just lands, and everywhere inside it is full of rain. A start: the Mother finds a blood clot in the Baby’s diaper. What is the story? Who put this here? It is big and bright, with a broken, khaki-colored vein in...

25. Children’s Ward

Sarah Day

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.5 KB)
pp. 167-168

26. Parents Support Group

Dick Allen

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.9 KB)
pp. 169-170

read more

27. Starter

Amy Hanridge

pdf iconDownload PDF (104.4 KB)
pp. 171-182

Everybody says they joined the military because of 9-11. They wanted to be a hero, patriotic or what not. And who wouldn’t? I was all for those things. I never had anything against any of that. But if I was honest, I’d tell people I signed with the Marine Corps because I couldn’t see any reason not to. I...

read more

Part IV. Relatives, Lovers, and Friends

The moral and in some cases legal obligation for parents to take care of children and children to take care of aging parents is the basis of much public policy and medical practice. There are of course exceptions when, either because of inability or unwillingness, these caregiving relationships...

read more

28. The Closet

Allegra Goodman

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.4 KB)
pp. 185-195

When she got home from work, Evelyn realized that her sister was now living full time in the closet. It was a big closet that spread out under the eaves. The house was built in the old Hawaiian style, two stories and white, with a long porch in front, and thick glass windows instead of louvres...

read more

29. The Caregiver

Eugenia Collier

pdf iconDownload PDF (125.2 KB)
pp. 196-205

In the background I could hear Aunt Lou shrieking at Donald. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her,” Donald was saying above the confusion. “She won’t even let me talk on the phone anymore. If I leave her room she starts hollering like that and keeps on until I hang up and come back in...

30. Atlantis

Mark Doty

pdf iconDownload PDF (87.4 KB)
pp. 206-216

read more

31. Oceanic Hotel, Nice

Tereze Glück

pdf iconDownload PDF (100.9 KB)
pp. 217-228

Nicholas said, “I must have a cigarette.” Said is not exactly accurate, since he could hardly speak. It was, I think, a matter of strength, or lack of it—he just did not have the strength to use his voice. He whispered, kind of. To hear him I had to lean over, so that my ear...

read more

Part V. Paid Caregivers

Caregiving is such a big job that many family members cannot do it on their own. The people they hire or who are sent by agencies because the patient is entitled to this service become essential complements to the care the family provides. This relationship is often fraught with ambiguity...

read more

32. A Pension Plan

Ha Jin

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.7 KB)
pp. 231-243

It was said that Mr. Sheng suffered from a kind of senile dementia caused by some infarction in his brain. I was sure it was neither Parkinson’s nor Alzheimer’s, because I had learned quite a bit about both during my training to be a health aide. He wasn’t completely disabled, but he needed to be cared...

read more

33. A Bad Day for Pisces

Fran Pokras Yariv

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.8 KB)
pp. 244-248

I believe in signs and in the stars, and it must have been a bad day for Pisces the day Ms. Breur-Gordon called me, Ofelia Hernandez wrote in her journal, the one her friend Corrine gave her for her birthday, so I should’ve said no when she asked me to work for her mother, but I needed the money. Ofelia put the pen down and took a sip of her Coke. She was sitting in...

read more

34. Wheelchair

Lewis Nordan

pdf iconDownload PDF (90.5 KB)
pp. 249-257

Winston Krepps had been abandoned by his attendant, and the door was shut tight. Winston pressed the control lever of his chair. The battery was low, so the motor sounded strained. The chair turned in a slow circular motion; the rubber tires squeaked on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. For a moment, as the chair turned, Winston saw two teenaged boys on a...

read more

35. God’s Goodness: A Short Story

Marjorie Kemper

pdf iconDownload PDF (114.2 KB)
pp. 258-272

First, last, and foremost, Ling Tan thought of herself as a Christian. So when Mrs. Sheriday said, “Tell me a little something about yourself,” Ling didn’t even draw breath before responding, “I am good Christian.” And so saying, she sat up even straighter in her chair, like a star pupil providing the...


pdf iconDownload PDF (66.2 KB)
pp. 273-276


pdf iconDownload PDF (92.9 KB)
pp. 277-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519719
E-ISBN-10: 0826519717

Publication Year: 2014