Thursday, 21 February 2019

Mining for Truth and Meaning in Caregiving and Memory

My sister Karen Thomson painted this portrait of our Mom and she titled it Partly Who She Was. Karen painted this from a photo that we took of Mom just as she got out of the car at Hovey Manor, a lovely country hotel in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. We'd taken her there for a special treat: dinner and an overnight stay in a large suite overlooking the lake. As Mom stretched her legs after the long drive, she looked around at the half-familiar hotel grounds. In her face, my sister and I saw the sharp contrast between her keen observation and her judgement, all contained in a thin shell of frailty. We took this trip in the early spring of 2018 and she died in mid-August. Aged 96.

Since Mom's death, my sister and I have talked a lot about who Mom was and how she shaped us. I have spent many hours sifting through the many unlabelled splinters of my memory trying to make categories of 'good' and 'bad'. But it's just too hard. I love my Mom, loved her. But she was a person of extremes and she was wilful. As a caregiver, we are supposed to distill our feelings down to those of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, right? But often it's not that simple.

I'm away right away right now with Jim, on our annual winter getaway to Cat Island, Bahamas. This is the one time of the year when I read a lot of fiction. The book on my lap now is Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (I highly recommend it - it's a wonderfully rich read and a great story). Nathaniel, the main character, has a complicated relationship with his mother. Here's how he describes it: It had taken me a while to realize that I would in some way have to love my mother in order to understand who she now was and what she had really been. This was difficult. 

Mom, I miss you. I love you.


Zachary said...

I so love this post, Donna. Karen's portrait of your mother is so genuine, so authentic, it makes me wonder about all the parts of your relationship with your mom that is in-between and can't be neatly summarized. It's mesmerizing as I can't help but think about your mother's life and your relationship with her rather than glossing over so much of what is missed in portraits. As you say, "As a caregiver, we are supposed to distill our feelings down to those of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, right? But often it's not that simple." Thank you and Karen for addressing the parts of care and memory and grief that are never "that simple."

Emily J M. said...

You deal really well with the complexities of loving and caring here. Love the painting too! Human relationships are never simple - but it can take courage to acknowledge that.

Unknown said...

Oh Oh Oh Cat Island! So many wonderful memories of my time there. I've been caring for my Dad/Best Friend for 4 years...he went to heaven this past Christmas Eve, at age 96. What a challenge...What a privilege. So much to sort out. Love, Christy

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