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Posted by Elisa on April 9, 2019
I’d hoped to recommend Elizabeth Hay’s latest: All Things Consoled: a daughter’s memoir, without revealing anything of myself. But that’s the problem; a book that moves you, a memoir that changes how you think, does so because it speaks to your own experience. Elizabeth Hay’s recounting of her parents’ end of life, is wound around her childhood memories, her admiration for her talented artist/mother, her struggle to forgive her complicated father, her determination to be a ‘good daughter’, whatever the cost.
Elizabeth Hay is of my generation; we are children of the fifties, with parents who loomed large. Men were allowed to be, could be, difficult, tyrannical. Women smoothed things over, and children, especially girls, were supposed to follow suit. No one talked about ‘emotional abuse’. At the centre of this book, as in life, Hay explores the complexity of her parents, the way her siblings fit together in the family, and the love that underlies it all. She writes of that love that is sprinkled with resentment and regrets, even until death.
A friend in his nineties told me recently, “I moved back here to die, but it’s taking a long time”. My parents’ generation is long-lived, which means that we are caring for our parents well into our own later life. And dying, like growing up, does take a long time. As this journey begins for Elizabeth Hay and her parents, she writes, “I was in dangerous personal territory, a fraught border country in which my parents were sliding into neediness and I was rising to power, yet losing my own life”. These words, and many other passages, were both comforting and painful to read, but also loosened something in me …the guilt that comes with watching our beloved parents go, wanting them to stay, but wishing they didn’t have to linger.
On the title, All Things Consoled: as Jean Hay moves into the confusion of memory loss, her words and phrases take on a poetic truth that is often more descriptive than the language just out of her reach.
I listened to the audio book on Overdrive, read by the author, and simultaneously read the hard copy. Place a hold today.