Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Literature of Caregiving: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Likely you have a favorite book by Anne Lamott. Most writers have a worn and underlined copy of “Bird by Bird” her book about writing. Church folks and faith seekers always adore, “Traveling Mercies”, and who hasn’t given or been given a copy of “Help. Thanks. Wow”
when life gets hard or good or real.

Fewer people know Lamott’s novels—most set in her own Northern California. Lamott brings her writing life and the angst of parenting to an imagined, fictional community—much like Marin County –possibly to play out what’s happening in the real community.

I have read all of Anne Lamott’s books and her very first book still remains my favorite. And, fitting for this series, it is a book about caregiving. 

“Operating Instructions” subtitled, “A journal of my son’s first year” is the story of Lamott’s pregnancy and her first year as a single mother at 35. It also happens that it is the period of her early recovery as becoming a parent turns out to be a wake-up call and how she hits bottom. Of course, Lamott is funny, honest, comforting and wildly self-disclosing. We have come to expect that from her.

But the part two of “Operating Instructions” is that while Anne is pregnant and getting through the first year of baby Sam’s life, her very best friend—Pammy—who has been Anne’s biggest supporter--is dying of cancer. So yes, life and death, and welcoming big love and saying good-bye to big love happen in one year and one story.

What I especially love about this book is that it gives us a caregiver story rarely celebrated in our genre—the friend caregiver. Anne is taking care of baby Sam and taking care of dying Pammy. Pammy takes care of Anne and gives her enough love to launch Sam’s new life. And what makes this caregiver story so great is all the qualities listed above: the humor, honesty, deep authenticity, and –this matters so much—an example of a caregiver doing a great job imperfectly.

“Operating Instructions” is my favorite gift to give at a baby shower or to a new Mom. Even the most insecure and nervous Mom will feel successful and competent after reading Lamott’s view of her sweet baby and the simultaneous passionate love and ambivalence she feels as his caregiver.

This might also be a good gift book for someone who has just learned of a friend’s cancer and is wondering what to do. Anne and Pammy and Sam are a trio of messy, wondrous love.

[The Literature of Caregiving is a monthly series. You can read earlier installments on December 8, 2014, January 16, 2015, February 17, 2015 and March 23, 2015.]

No comments: