Review: Living in the Land of Limbo

I've just finished an excellent book of fiction and poetry about caregiving—but I cannot recommend it unreservedly to all caregivers. Living in the Land of Limbo, compiled and edited by Carol Levine, is a powerful collection. But some of the stories and poems illuminate the caregiver's predicament with a light almost too bright to bear. And some caregivers may not wish to spend their leisure time reading something that reminds them so sharply of their labors of love and duty.

But others may long for communion with people who share their stress, their questions, their guilt, their sense of loss—and their joy. The voices that speak out from Limbo talk of caring for people with a variety of health conditions, and their concerns are likely to reverberate with anyone who cares for a daughter, a wife, a mother or a friend with breast or ovarian cancer.

Many will recognize the role reversal in a Rick Moody story in which a son gently bathes the mother who once bathed him. Other stories tell of a husband struggling to care for an infirm wife at home in order to fulfill a promise made when they were both young and healthy; of the resentment expressed by a husband toward his wife for her single-minded devotion to caring for her sister; of the abandonment a caregiver feels as everyone he knows backs away.

These stories raise troubling questions familiar to all of us who have provided care for another: How much of your own life should you put on hold to bolster the life of another? How much caregiving is enough? Is it right to urge hope on the hopeless? Or to urge resignation on someone who believes in miracles?

But they also speak of the satisfactions: the sweet pleasures of simple physical caregiving, the gratification of being useful, and the sense of grace that sometimes accompanies one of life's most elemental experiences.