A Canadian writer’s debut memoir about how she learned to cope with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.
As the eldest of four children and the only daughter, Johnson became the main caretaker for her aging parents. She and her siblings watched over a period of 20 years as Alzheimer’s claimed their reserved British father and old age took their feisty American mother. Yet after her mother died, Johnson did not feel the relief she had expected. Instead she found herself “searching for evidence” of her mother and father. The author moved into her parents’ house to sort through their belongings. Almost immediately, she felt the deep emotional toll of her task of separating the “trash from the treasure.” Going through the possessions that had accumulated over combined lifetimes of “more than 180 years,” she realized the “layers of misunderstandings” that existed between herself and, in particular, her mother. Johnson gradually began tracing the trajectory of her parents’ lives. Her free-spirited mother had been a war bride who followed her husband to England, Singapore, and Canada. Growing up, she remembered how her order-loving, traditional father had stifled her mother’s artistic ambitions and possibly fueled the alcoholism for which he would make her feel guilty. Personal letters revealed that their difficult though long-lived union had been riven from the start by separation and opposing temperaments. Johnson learned that her parents’ marriage had ultimately been “a hard-fought achievement” both had consciously chosen. But perhaps even more significantly, she understood that the “intrusive, demanding, and possessive” person she knew as her mother was really a woman who wanted a closeness with her daughter that she had not shared with her own mother. Generous and heartfelt, Johnson’s book offers an intimate look at family and especially mother-daughter connections. It is an uplifting affirmation of human relationships and the cycle of life itself.
A warmly candid memoir of navigating family, aging, and death.