Kirkus Reviews: No Saints around Here by Susan Allen Toth
A wife’s frank memoir of her time as a caregiver during the last 18 months of her husband’s life.
Writing teacher Toth (Leaning into the Wind: A Memoir of Midwest Weather, 2003, etc.), whose husband James had Parkinson’s disease, tells it like it is. Once a successful architect, he declined both physically and mentally as the disease ravaged his body. The author was determined to care for him at home in the house he had designed for them, the story of which is told in their jointly authored book, A House of One’s Own (1991). During those last months, Toth jotted down her thoughts, feelings and uncertainties, and she recorded the intimate details of caring for a helpless person. Arranged in chronological order, these short essays tell of a dark journey through slow decay and toward inevitable death. Caregivers do not just soothe fevered brows; they have to brush and floss their patients’ teeth, feed them, find the right commode, diapers, and waterproof mattress pads, clean up their messes and cope with their demands. They do what has to be done. While Toth makes it clear that she dearly loved the man she was caring for, she lets her fatigue, guilt, frustrations, fraying patience and even exasperation show. Having paid help is a plus, of course, and the author’s financial situation will be the envy of many. The bond she formed with other caregivers who shared their experiences, sometimes with black humor, was invaluable to her. That may be the book’s greatest value—that caregivers of loved ones reading it will take comfort in knowing that what they are going through has been shared by many others.
An inward-looking account with an important take-home message: Caring for a dying loved one is a demanding task, and caregivers are only human.