From Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's beloved novelists, comes a startling and beautiful memoir about the drama of her parents' end, and the longer drama of being their daughter. Winner of the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonficiton.
Jean and Gordon Hay were a colourful, formidable pair. Jean, a late-blooming artist with a marvellous sense of humour, was superlatively frugal; nothing got wasted, not even maggoty soup. Gordon was a proud and ambitious schoolteacher with a terrifying temper, a deep streak of melancholy, and a devotion to flowers, cars, words, and his wife. As old age collides with the tragedy of living too long, these once ferociously independent parents become increasingly dependent on Lizzie, the so-called difficult child. By looking after them in their final decline, she hopes to prove that she can be a good daughter after all.
In this courageous memoir, written with tough-minded candour, tenderness, and wit, Elizabeth Hay lays bare the exquisite agony of a family's dynamics—entrenched favouritism, sibling rivalries, grievances that last for decades, genuine admiration, and enduring love. In the end, she reaches a more complete understanding of the most unforgettable characters she will ever know, the vivid giants in her life who were her parents.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In this stunning and fiercely honest memoir, Elizabeth Hay documents the decline of her parents: Jean, a passionate artist with a penchant for thrift, and Gordon, a revered teacher prone to sudden rage. A novelist by trade, Hay draws us in with evocative language, cataloguing her complicated family dynamics—and her personal resentments and revelations. A certain humility is unavoidable when you’re forced to watch the dissolution of the people who raised you; Hay’s raw and wry perspective makes the experience especially poignant.
All Things Consoled
I am currently going down a similar path as to what the illustrious writer is literally painting for those of us who are about to descend into. I think it is wonderful when someone who has gone through the kind of torment which will await just about each of us, what will be set before us around corners and hope is always near. She is willing to offer “spoilers” in order to prepare and ideas on how to rationalize how within a family, each of us are coping the best we can in such a difficult situation. We are all so very different even though we are family, grew up together, our expectations for one another can work against us.
I am, however, not a fan of the word “console”. Never was since the day my own father died and I was 13. There is no such thing as “consolation”. I believe in asking God for strength to get through difficult times, and sharing a bond true to love to get through, but how can you say “I am sorry” or “You have my condolences”...I always found that it was never this individual’s fault for what occurred (and they have no strength to change the circumstances) and although this person feels sad about the situation you are in, it does not change it. I would rather empathy then sympathy.
Anyway, my viewpoint on aging parents needs to bring the concept of the heartache of who were once your hero’s and the people you loved deeply like no other, are regressing right before your eyes. There is a need to adjust our current time frame to a relatively new phenomenon; children being the caregivers to their parents and this book illustrates it beautifully,
well written and from the heart...just as it should be.