Mary Pipher, author of the bestselling and groundbreaking Reviving Ophelia
, which charts the troubled passage of girls into adolescence, has nimbly covered yet another psychological passage: that into old age, which May Sarton called "a foreign country."
Pipher reveals that the greatest shame for today's elders--most of whom survived the Depression--is not being self-sufficient. The majority of them stoically prefer to keep their feelings to themselves, and this is why it's so difficult to convince older parents to accept or even discuss such issues as physical and mental health, finances, eldercare, or living wills. This directly conflicts with the openness of their children, who grew up in the era of "free love" and were influenced by society (and the advent of psychology in the 1950s and popularization of therapy) to talk frankly about emotions. While a boomer can easily talk with a friend about marriage difficulties or even surgery, an elder is likely to find admitting such "weaknesses" abhorrent.
Another Country includes excerpts of sessions with dozens of Pipher's psychology patients, interspersed with not-so-obvious advice for sensitively communicating with the elderly. Some interviews are grim: one woman hallucinated that rodents were running through her house; she was so desperate for company from her family, but too proud to ask them to stop by, that she invented her own visitors. But the breakthroughs in communication Pipher is able to accomplish, sometimes with the help of grandchildren as intermediaries, are startling and thoroughly encouraging. (For example, the animals the woman was imagining disappeared after she received company regularly.)
Pipher cared for her dying mother for a "horrid," guilt-filled year while this book was being written and says that she wanted "to help others in my situation feel less alone." She also aims to help each generation understand the other. In these goals she's succeeded brilliantly. Any adult struggling with issues with their parents, especially mortality, will find Another Country an indispensable source of suggestions and support. --Erica Jorgensen
From Publishers Weekly
Older men and women, as well as their children and grandchildren, will find this well-written and sensitive investigation of aging both enlightening and engrossing. Because the death of her mother was so traumatic, Pipher, a psychologist and the author of Reviving Ophelia, was motivated to study the aging process in order to promote meaningful connections between the generations and more cultural support for pursuing them. She provides a wealth of anecdotal information about the problems of growing older, drawing on interviews and her own therapeutic work with predominately middle-class white and black Midwestern Americans in their 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as their children. Pipher contends that a variety of cultural trends are responsible for there being so many isolated old people today: a movement away from communal to individualistic ideals; the generation gap between baby boomers and their aging parents; the lack of organized support for the care of the elderly. As she relates the stories of those she has met and counseled, Pipher describes strategies for dealing with illness, physical decline, the death of a husband or wife and the emotional problems that arise for both the elderly and their families. She emphasizes the importance of intergenerational contacts, the benefit of giving older people freedom to make their own choices and her resolute belief that families can fortify the honesty and love they share through involvement in a dying parent's final months. One of the strengths of this excellent study is that Pipher includes examples of troubled as well as rewarding marital and parent/child relationships. Agent, Susan Lee Cohen at Riverside Literary Agency. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.