Living in the Land of Limbo
Fiction and Poetry about Family Caregiving
Publication Year: 2014
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
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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...
Introduction: Family Caregivers in Fiction and Poetry
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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—...
Part I. Children of Aging Parents
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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...
1. Diem Perdidi
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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...
2. Whosoever: The Language of Mothers and Sons
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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...
3. The Third Dumpster
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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...
Part II. Husbands and Wives
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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...
11. Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year
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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...
12. We Are Nighttime Travelers
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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...
17. The Bear Came Over the Mountain
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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...
18. Thoreau’s Laundry
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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 ...
22. He Read to Her
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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...
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...
23. How to Win
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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...
24. People Like That Are the Only People Here
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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...
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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...
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...
28. The Closet
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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...
29. The Caregiver
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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...
31. Oceanic Hotel, Nice
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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...
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...
32. A Pension Plan
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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...
33. A Bad Day for Pisces
Fran Pokras Yariv
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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...
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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...
35. God’s Goodness: A Short Story
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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...
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Publication Year: 2014