Mirrored Lives: Aging Children and Elderly Parents. Koch T, New York: Praeger, 1 991 , 21 7 pages, hardcover, $19.95.
For those who desire to gain a holistic understanding of the family's interpersonal or relational context as it relates to the "experience" of aging children and their elderly parents, this book will be of enormous interest. It would also be useful for researchers interested in qualitative family research methods.
This book constitutes a case history of the author's father, Norm. Although the author describes "the creeping senility" and a number of other physical ailments that his 76-year old father has, the focus of the book is on the interdependence of the corrosive effects of disease processes and "being old." He vividly outlines the concomitant "battle" that Norm fought to maintain hold of some remnants of his previous perceptions of the world and his sense of self in congruence with "how he believed life should be at this stage of the life cycle" and, indeed, once was. In addition, the meanings and constructions of reality of the other family members about how dad was, and should be, playing out that battle, and their reciprocal effect on each other, is also concisely yet vividly portrayed. Koch maintains that these two issues are fundamental to understanding how Norm, as well as he and his siblings, experienced life during the illness trajectory.
Each of the chapters are named in such a way as to reflect the significant objective and subjective happenings as they unfold in the life of the Koch family. Thus, the first chapter depicts the beginning of the illness trajectory, involving Norm's need for a new hip implant and the beginning of Norm's "rejection of the future and an insistence upon the more comfortable past."
The second chapter describes another aspect of the theme that is central to the author's perspective: his thoughts about and feelings of frustration and fear about the situation, particularly "not being ready" and thus not knowing "what's to be done" in regard to the various happenings.
The next four chapters depict the other significant themes for the family. Chapter 3 outlines the author's view of returning to live with his father, and the frustration of watching his father as he "made himself unnecessarily miserable." Chapters 4 through 7 elaborate on the other constructed realities of Norm's life and his sons as interpreted by the author. These include paradoxical existences, ceaseless deprivation, incessant mourning, and deprived time. According to the author, this real question is not so much "who am I" but rather the meaning of "what brings me to this point (in life) here and now," a question that Koch maintains Norm elected not to answer, thereby letting age and infirmity rob from his existence any joy, and thus spending his last years simply "waiting to die."
The last section of the book is particularly informative in terms of several practical suggestions that are based on this case study. A central emphasis is the need to acknowledge how a parent may become progressively isolated from family members, and the concomitant distancing of the parent's reality from a family's history and the community during a period of illness and decline.