The arc of mortality

I spent the opening hours of this day watching the memorial for 41st U.S. president George H.W. Bush. I saw a nation celebrate a former leader but also aging children (of my generation) seeing off an elderly parent.

This is a common experience for those of us whose parents live long: we share their passage through decline to death even as we glimpse or enter our own “later years.” We begin to look back and it tangles with some new and perhaps urgent need to “come to terms with” these parents — who they were, who they’re becoming. (Or un-becoming.)

download (4)Just last night I finished one such story, wonderfully told by Elizabeth Hay in her award-winning All Things Consoled. I heard Hay at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival this fall and knew her book, whose “arc,” she said, “is mortality,” would resonate. The details, the personalities, are hers specifically and yet, reading it, so much belonged also to me, an oldest daughter who was nearest, thus point person and witness to the parents’ increasing frailty and dementia. Yes, and yes, to the sense of responsibility, longing, ambivalence, sweet moments, humour, and toll of a lengthy leaving that she describes.

The arc of mortality implicates not only parent and child but every relationship in the family. I chatted with Hay after her talk and since she’d mentioned siblings, related that my two sisters, knowing we yearned to live closer to our children after my husband retired but wouldn’t leave Winnipeg while Mom was alive, told me it was their turn now. I said that we relocated Mom to a nursing home in Saskatchewan, the sisters took the role of Nearest-to, we moved to B.C. ScanI was touched, then, at Hay’s inscription in my copy of her book: For Dora, who is lucky in her sisters…. Yes I am.

And I heartily recommend the book!

6 thoughts on “The arc of mortality

  1. Dora, I too feel lucky to have four sisters. My mother had only brothers and was always looking for a sister in her relationships. She encouraged us to be there for each other. Lately our lives have been too busy to be together much, so we have been sharing our enneagram son email!

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  2. In a family it would be good for everyone to experience both the joy, and responsibility, of being nearest-to. It increases respect and understanding for the role of the caregiver, and brings joy for providing that care.

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  3. I share your sense of the strangeness of the current arc of mortality, but my view is from the other end. My children are now in their sixties facing their own aging issues. We are in this phase of life together. What has hit me recently is that there is no guarantee they will survive me. Given my good health l could well be the designated survivor. Sobering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once again you have startled me with an insight, Loretta; with an experience similar but different — “the other end.” Thank you! Would love to discuss this with you further some time. Sobering indeed.

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