Memoir becomes text on gerontology

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – When Californian Joyce Farmer’s father and stepmother needed more and more of her help for them to stay in their home, she saw firsthand the struggles that can come with old age and the infirmities it brings.
Years later, the cartoonist fictionalized the experience – humiliation, horror, humor and all – to share in “Special Exits.”
The lead characters in this 200-page, hardbound, comic-style “graphic memoir” are Lars and Rachel, an elderly couple doing their best to deal with – or sometimes not – various circumstances of old age, and Laura, their daughter-stepdaughter.
The recently released book illustrates so many challenges of declining health, dementia and terminal disease that Dr. Jo Ann O’Quin, a social work professor at the University of Mississippi, is adapting “Special Exits” as a text for her Special Topics on Aging class.
“This is the first class that I have had use it, of course, since it is new, and as far as I know we are the only one in the country doing so,” O’Quin said. “I am using it in the Special Topics on Aging class that has a focus on family and caregiving as well as Alzheimer’s and related dementia.”
In “Special Exits,” Laura’s own busy life keeps her from realizing early on how much her parents struggle with household chores, driving and other day-to-day necessities.
Poor judgment about diet, medications and finances complicates matters, as does Lars’ worsening hearing, Rachel’s failing eyesight and both elders’ declining strength.
“I wouldn’t have done (the book) if it were just for me,” said Farmer, who will be in Oxford on Tuesday. “I started realizing there were so many people out there in the same situation, and so many of us were clueless.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.