Parenting Your Parent: 8 Touching Novels About Ailing Parents

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Dee Das

Staff Writer

Trying to live, love, and say it well in good sentences. Pronouns: she/her. Contact:

The art of caregiving is hard to master, especially when you are taking care of your own parent. No matter how mentally strong someone is, the sickness of a parent always throws them off their feet. The child becomes the parent of the parent, and this transformation is anything but smooth sailing. Physical and emotional exhaustion compounds the difficulty involved. This is when we turn to books and our fictional counterparts who have gone through similar situations. While fiction about ailing parents doesn’t magically elevate one’s standard of life, it does provide a respite for those who need to know they aren’t the only ones experiencing this strain.

Fiction about sick parents teaches patience, not just for the parent in question but also for oneself. It humanizes the child and takes into consideration their emotional quotient, something that might have gotten excluded from the equation long back. Fiction featuring sick parents definitely can’t shield its readers from life’s punches, but it does help in soldiering through the worst. There is comfort in knowing that even though the day to day mostly feels like waging a war, it also offers its fair share of joys, albeit small and sporadic.

Cover of Activities Of Daily Living

Activities Of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen

Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in her late thirties, is the caregiver of her father, who has dementia. In the off-hours from her day job, she is trying to build a project around the life and art of performance artist Tehching Hsieh. She contemplates philosophy and art as she goes to street protests, loses touch with a dear friend, and watches her father’s steady deterioration. Full of literary and philosophical references, this book is an enjoyable analysis of the passage of time and the pros and cons of living a creative life.

Cover of Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

This novel centers around 30-year-old Ruth Young and is narrated in the form of diary entries. She arrives at her parents’ house to take care of her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Ruth has troubles of her own, including having separated from her fiancé after he cheated on her. The novel depicts how she and the rest of her family try to build a new relationship with her father. It also sheds light on everything that binds families together — and everything that doesn’t.

Cover of You Shouldn't Have To Say Goodbye

You Shouldn’t Have To Say Goodbye by Patricia Hermes

Thirteen-year-old Sarah doesn’t know what awaits her. She doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact that her mother winces when she hugs her. Three weeks later, her mother gets diagnosed with cancer, which comes as a massive blow to her family. But her mother has a gift for reaffirming life. This is a story of how familial love becomes a huge respite during trying times.

Cover of Unlikely Animals

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett

Natural-born healer Emma has lost her way. A med-school dropout, she comes back to her hometown to take care of her father, who is suffering from a mysterious brain disease. He has been hallucinating small animals and also having visions about a long-dead naturalist. Emma comes home knowing all the mishaps she will have to deal with, but she was completely unprepared for her best friend going missing. Emma isn’t trying to prove anything to anyone, but somehow she and her father set out on an adventure to find the missing girl. Will their town finally experience a miracle?

Cover of The Illustrated Mum

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

Marigold, the mother of Dolphin and Star, has bipolar disorder. She loves tattoos and often leaves her children in less-than-ideal situations. Marigold and her erratic behavior put the children’s safety at risk. Mostly, their lives go by trying to fend for themselves. This novel is an honest portrait of how children often have to prematurely grow up when parents fall sick. It’s also a tribute to those children who are forced to brave obstacles from a very young age.

Cover of We Are Not Ourselves

We Are Not Ourselves By Matthew Thomas

This book is about three generations of an Irish American family, however, most of it revolves around the life of Eileen. Eileen is training for a graduate degree in nursing administration and is determined to live a good life. Then she meets Ed, who is a scientist, and falls hard for him. What neither of them realizes is that their priorities in life are very different. Nonetheless, they spend years together before their love is put to test as Ed is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Ed’s illness changes the dynamics of the entire family. How will their son cope with the slow decline of their father? Will he manage to hold on to any semblance of normalcy?

Cover of Em And The Big Hoom

Em And The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

In a one-bedroom flat in Mumbai, India, lives a family where the mother is afflicted with severe mental illness. She is suicidal and can barely take care of herself. The father of the family tries his best to hold everything together, but one person can only do so much. Besides being a raw portrayal of how having sick parents impacts children, this novel provides excellent insights into the minds of those suffering.

Cover of The Space Between Lost And Found

The Space Between Lost And Found by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

For Cassie, her mother has always been a comforting figure but that changes suddenly as she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Little Cassie tries her best to help out and understand the new rules her dad has imposed. As her mom’s memories begin to fade, Cassie’s art ideas begin to evaporate as well. Then comes a day when her mom forgets Cassie’s name. How will Cassie ever overcome this? What big (mis?)adventure are waiting for her?

If you are in the same boat as the aforementioned protagonists, I hope their stories help you power through the storms. And if you need a little bit of light, please check out this list on books about hope for all ages.