So not only did you teach me about writing memoir, you also taught me about reading and thinking about how others write memoir. Thank you so much!

p.s. my mom now refers to me as the family "chronicler" - getting down all the family stories. How I love that title!! :)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Saving Memories of our Parents When They are Losing them

I was very lucky to be caregiver for my mother after she lost her short term memory from a ruptured aneurysm on her carotid artery in 1975. During the next ten years of her life, I saw her almost every day and talked with her. Although she could not remember what happened a few hours earlier, she remembered her childhood and everything she had learned about my father's family and her own.

In an article I read this morning, a man decided he would be the caregiver for his mother when she began to have signs of dementia. He used this time with her to take photographs and share her last days in fun and interesting ways. She and he spent time laughing and making pictures, some funny and some unusual that the man will cherish always and so will his family.

My mother's stories about family and people she loved was the impetus for my book, Profiles and Pedigrees, The Descendants of Thomas Council. It is a family history book about my father's family but my mother gave me most of the early information that began my search. She also told me about her father, William Henry Robison and her mother, Malula (Lou) Jones Robison. She remembered her life growing up in Pelham, Georgia, where she was a happy girl with good friends. I can see her in my mind now. A pretty girl with black hair, done in the fashion of the day, wearing light colored dresses with lace at the neckline or sleeves. Her family was middle class for that time. William maintained all the buildings for Mr. Hand who founded and owned the town of Pelham, a small mill town in south west Georgia. Mother was born in 1904, just at the turn of the century. In her 8o years of life, she traveled in a covered wagon, the first automobiles manufactured, and in an airplane. She had dreamed of owning a Cadillac automobile and one day she went to the dealership and bought one. She paid cash. I loved that story because the salesman was shocked when she began peeling off the bills.

Although my mother lived in a time when women had little independence she managed to save up the money she needed to purchase the car. I don't know how long she had to save, but I know it was her persistence and sacrifice of other things like nice clothes and a fine house that enabled her to buy that car. By this time in her life, her children were grown and married. She was dealing with the empty nest, a time for her to finally have some things for herself.

But I digress from my point. I wish that children of parents with dementia or elderly parents who might be stressors to their children, would look for ways to interact with them, to find what the older people can talk about or share from years ago when they were growing up. It is interesting and might help the adult child better understand the mother or father he has never spent quality time with.

In my work as a teacher of memoir writing, I have learned much about the chasm between parents and children, a chasm that is often unrecognized. "My children are not interested in my life," some tell me. "My grandchildren know nothing about what my life was like, and they really don't care."

What I have found is that many children wish they had asked more questions, had listened instead of talking so much to their parents. Everyone has a unique life, not like the life of anyone else.

I urge adult children, if your parents are still alive, ask them about their childhood, where they lived, what were their homes like, how did their parents make a living or raise their kids. Your parents hold in their memories history that only they can pass on to you.

I cherish those days I had with my mother, even when I was tired, when I needed her to be mother again and I her child. I admire the man who wrote the article you can read HERE. He made his time with his mother a very special time to save her memories.


Elephant's Child said...

Tony's story is heartwarming and lovely. Thank you so much for sharing it.

DJan said...

His mother comes alive in that article. I love that she got to balance on the Great Wall, ride a camel, see the Eiffel Tower. Such a great article. Thank you so much for sharing it, Glenda. :-)

Glenda Council Beall said...

Thank you, EC and DJan for reading and leaving a comment. I appreciate you both.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, DJan. EC, I will be reading to see what you are up to.