The only happy part about prolonged endings is the relief when they’re finally over. That’s not how you’ll feel at the conclusion of Welcome to the Departure Lounge. Meg Federico has managed to make her martini-stoned mother’s final earthly breaths her transcendence into the heart of every reader. The book’s ending not only rages, but illuminates that final journey into the night. The epilogue is not to be missed.
Welcome to the Departure Lounge is the memoir of a daughter who never quite felt good enough for her mother, Addie, an aging WASP matron. When Addie hits her head and becomes permanently “loopy”, Meg helps care for her in an effort to earn the affection she missed growing up (and serve a few just deserts as well), before it’s too late. Keeping her mom and stepdad Walter in line are a pageant of hired hands ranging from a dictatorial head nurse to a near-comatose couch potato. Meg must also contend with her own family, her stepdad’s family, her siblings and a battery of doctors and care workers. Despite the fact that she is all but immobile, it still isn’t quite Addie’s time. Until then, it’s the kids’ jobs to keep her comfortable and prepared to depart.
With nothing else to do, alliances shift and emotions explode. Everybody becomes tokens to one another as they wheel and deal for petty gains. Addie and Walter may spend most of their time sitting, but schemes of escape keep rolling along, because schemes are just about all they have. They plot to get high, to become drunk, to regain lucidity, to purchase junk and ultimately to hurry death. They’ll do anything to deny the crushing ennui that is their reality. Temporary improvements—like a limo ride around town—make them euphoric, until they realize that it’s only temporary, and so plotting begins anew. This is where the book derives much of its humor, which, though dark, is easily understandable and thus humorous. Eventually Addie realizes that all her antics are futile, because time does not make things better but worse, until in the long run we all die. When Addie comes to not only accept death, but wholeheartedly embrace it, she finds herself so frail that suicide is beyond her reach, and she must wait until death comes to her.
Sooner or later, most of us end up orphans. So how does a book about becoming one, and about being whittled down by time into a barely conscious lump, manage to be anything but depressing? The answer is existential. Resistance to chaos is farcical, any triumphs we have are ultimately meaningless. Addie, the former paragon of orderly manners, cannot even control her bodily functions, let alone coordinate her outfits with her fading eyesight. Meg, despite all her best efforts, cannot keep her parent from succumbing to age. Nonetheless, they continue to make the best of their surroundings. A particularly moving example is when Addie, completely dependent, finds meaning in being thankful for others. Like most life-defining activities, it is both pathetic and admirable.
Richard Tseng is a graduate of and former columnist at McGill University. He is currently a freelance copywriter.