Shooting starts next week and I’m drafting a post to wrap up how pre-production has concluded. However, in the meantime, I came across a posting on the Dish that appealed to me because it combined the subjects of my last film and my current film by addressing how women, who provide the majority of end-of-life care, are particularly impacted:
The burden of unpaid care work that women continue to shoulder plays a major role in women’s persistent economic inequality. Directly, there is the opportunity cost that comes when women cut back hours or drop out of the paid labor force to provide care; economist Nancy Folbre has referred to this cost as the “care penalty.” Indirectly, unpaid care work affects women’s compensation in the paid labor market. Research has shown that a portion of the gender pay gap is attributable to the fact that women with children are, on average, paid less than their otherwise identical counterparts. Another study found that working in a caregiving occupation is associated with a 5 to 10 percent wage penalty, even when skill levels, education, industry, and other observable factors are controlled for.
As writer Jane Glenn Haas pointed out, eldercare isn’t sexy enough to be a feminist issue. It lacks the naughty allure of reproductive rights, the seductive appeal of body image. It doesn’t even have a sassy Lean In-like catchphrase. But it should be a feminist issue, since the numbers show that women are most likely to shoulder the responsibility of looking after parents in their twilight years, and the most likely to live well into those twilight years. A lot of them have missed out on career and educational opportunities. A lot of them—like my mother and her friends—are doing this by the skin of their teeth, with scant to nonexistent resources. A lot of them will outlive their spouses (if they have them), exhaust their pensions (if they have them), and die alone.
The fuller article on the Baffler is here. The blog post that started it all, a personal essay really, called Eldercare: The Forgotten Feminist Issue and quoted above is here. And I include the lovely picture of the mother of the writer, Jamie Nesbitt Golden, as this post’s featured image because all of us caregivers can relate.
Research goes on. Just finished the poignant Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Besides being a very quick read, which when you are doing research is much appreciated, it is indeed a deep lament. Even though I have not lost a son, I easily recognize the states of feeling and mind filling the pages.
Let me try again. All these things I recognize. I remember delighting in them. Trees, art, house, music, pink morning sky, work well done, flowers, books. I still delight in them. I am still grateful. But the zest is gone. The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled. My attachment is loosened. No longer do I set my heart on them. I can do without them. They don’t matter. Instead of rowing, I float… I’ve become an alien in the world, shyly touching it as if it’s not mine. I don’t belong anymore. When someone loved leaves home, home becomes mere house.
I can testify that this is mood or state that that blows through one during the first year after death. As a person who has been bereaved and is still sorting it out, I find the personal accounts – my story, your story – to be where the comfort is. I’ve noticed this both in the bereavement group I’ve attended and in the variety of books I’ve read. When I am in group and it’s being run ineptly, the facilitator is droning on about some statistical or anecdotal fact of grieving. It’s not comforting. It’s a display. When the group speaks and stories are told, there is resonance.
When I consider Fatherloss, my last piece of reading research. I cannot say it was not informative. But it wasn’t moving or comforting. The author came between me and the stories of his subjects by focusing more on his interpretation of them than letting them speak for themselves. And percentages of this type of loss and that type of response are valuable but not for those who’ve actually had the loss and are looking for consolation.
Something I need to bear in mind as I start shooting. Bereaving is like filmmaking: It’s more important to follow the river of feeling than the trail of facts.
This little observation about life after loss came to me via Andrew Sullivan. The full piece by Roger Angell appears in the New Yorker.
A few notes about age is my aim here, but a little more about loss is inevitable. “Most of the people my age is dead. You could look it up” was the way Casey Stengel put it. He was seventy-five at the time, and contemporary social scientists might prefer Casey’s line delivered at eighty-five now, for accuracy, but the point remains. We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing—that pale-yellow Saks scarf—reappear unexpectedly, along with accompanying touches of sweetness or irritation.