All Things Consoled, Elizabeth Hay

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All Things Consoled is written with Hay’s signature eloquence and grace. She takes us on her journey into the fraught territory of caring for her aging parents, but tells it in her beautiful and descriptive way, just as you would find if reading her fiction.

She describes with beauty watching her parents slowly wasting away – both physically and mentally.

With each successive visit, more of them had melted away. Now I often knew more details about mu mother’s past than she did.

My mother went in and out of lucidity the way you go in and out of a lake. The lucid waters, the forgetful shore.

I looked around the retirement home and saw wartime. The battlefield was old age and these were the victims, rather nobly and philosophically coping with their injuries, or not.

She writes with honesty just how worn down she becomes because of this commitment to her parents and juggling her own personal commitments as well:

But we were both worn out. The next day he [her father] dumped his worries in my lap, everything from Mom’s glasses needing repair to her wetting the bed again to his banking to his Visa card: all this combined with my own obligations – a panel the following day, a trip to Hamilton the day after that, my French lesson, the broken car (in the shop, something went wrong with the compression), my stalled manuscript – all this meant that I was in torment, awake at three in the morning, an agony of worries until four, when finally I got up and immediately felt better, as if worries gain perspective when they’re stood upright on their own two feet. Otherwise, they are the hot iron and you the thin cotton being pressed flat.

Dad was in his green wing chair next to the window. “I’m not used to being so disorganized.” A pause. “It’s such a shame,” he said. He meant her mind, his mind too; their lives. Her lost hearing aid (likely thrown out in one of her cleanups). Everything. I went to him and kissed his forehead and held his shoulders. He wept. “I hate you having to hold my hand,” he said. 

It’s all told with her beauty, grace and eloquence. One aspect

I found to pervade much of this memoir however, were Hay’s painful memories concerning her father and his temper, which is often described here as violent. There were many moments throughout that recall and remember his temper and its lasting impact upon her life and the shaping of her and her own temper. Everything is told with great honesty – her sadness, her frustration, her fondness for her parents and at now having to care for them now that they are incapable of caring for each other on their own.

At the same time I was reading All Things Consoled, I was listening to Elinor Lipman’s essays in I Can’t Complain (narrated by the author), and she too touches upon the passing of her parents and those memories and recalls the type of people they were, what they meant to her, etc. Lipman recalls those moments using her wondering humour and I found I quite enjoyed hearing from both of these authors on this topic at the same time. Both were told with great love and compassion.

This is a topic that is becoming more and more pertinent in my life. so this memoir has left me with much thought and contemplation.