Feeding My Mother, is a memoir from Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden. Arden has been something of a fixture on the Canadian music scene for the last quarter of a century. However, other than her 1994 hit Insensitive, I couldn’t name one of her songs. However, books that deal with food and relationships tend to get my attention, and so I picked this one up.
Feeding as an Act of Love
Another thing that made me want to pick this book up is the fact that just a few weeks ago we celebrated my mom’s 90th birthday. It was great being able to spend the time with her, and enjoy her ability to join in fully with all the celebrations. As I read Feeding my Mother, I realize that deep inside there is a fear of the day when my mother may find herself in the same position as Jann Arden’s mother was.
The book starts off with Arden recounting how she started to feed both her father and mother. She gives an account of her growing up years, among other things, dealing with an alcoholic father. Through it all, though her parents stood by each other. They gave her an example of how to live and care for others, and, her mom most of all, encouraged her to pursue her dreams at all times.
The main thing that sticks out is how during those years of feeding her parents, she begins to get to know them better. The dinner table becomes a place of nourishment, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Arden also starts to get to know herself better. Preparing meals for others is something new for her, adn she realizes that it allows her to show love in a new way. With the death of her father, the relationship changes, Slowly but surely, Arden’s mother starts to slip away from her as her mom’s memory loss progresses.
The real great strength of this book is Arden’s honesty. At times she is hard on her parents. More often than not she is hard on herself. Alzheimer’s is a cruel, and capricious disease. Arden twice uses the analogy of: “watching a dog get it’s tail cut off, one inch at a time.” None of the process of observing this take effect in her mother’s life is sugar coated. Her pain, frustration, and anger are all there on the page.
As the story progresses she starts to talk about what it is like to learn to live a life of gratitude. To learn what it means to focus on what is necessary, and what is kind. To learn what it means to love the woman her mother has become, and not the woman she once was. These could seem like glib life lessons, but the honesty with which Arden reveals her own struggles makes you realize that these are real, hard fought, hard learned aspects of her life.
While all these are factors in the lives of mother and daughter, the one other that stands out above all is laughter. In particular, Arden’s mother’s laughter is a constant on this journey. Living in the moment creates a lot of room for laughter.
There is a lot of other wisdom in this book. Much of the wisdom comes from Arden’s mother. On Page 107 Arden relates how she was trying to be, in her terms, the memory police. In response to that behaviour, her mom simply states: “you con’t have to remember everything to be happy.”
Of all the bits of wisdom in the book learning to live in the present is the biggest one. Arden writes a lot about fear. Of being afraid of who her mother is becoming. Of being afraid of who she is becoming. Yet, as she deals with the fear, she can look at her mother, and realize that because her mother can only live in the present, her mother no longer fears.
Recipes for Feeding One’s Mother (and Father)
At the back of the book there is a brief section listing a few of the recipes Arden made over the years as she took over feeding her parents. I haven’t tried to cook them, and I don’t think one needs to. I know I have recipes that I would cook if I needed to cook for my mother. Reading the recipes reminded me of Emily Nunn’s, The Comfort Food Diaries. One of these days I’ll get around to rereading and reviewing that book. Here, though, the lesson I took from that book was that the comfort isn’t in the food itself, but in the people we share it with.
Feeding My Mother, is a great read. If you are dealing with memory loss among family you likely will be able to relate to several of the experiences that Arden deals with. Although as she says several time in the book, everyone’s Alzheimer’s journey is different. There is no particular pattern. This book will also encourage you to find ways to support people who are dealing with Alzheimer’s, dementia, memory loss, etc. This is a book definitely worth adding to your bookshelf.