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All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir

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Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver.

As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of partial, painful, inconsistent, and funny stories that a family makes over time. Hay's eloquent memoir distills these stories into basic truths about parents and children and their efforts of understanding.

With her uncommon sharpness and wit, Elizabeth Hay offers her insights into the peculiarities of her family's dynamics--her parents' marriage, sibling rivalries, miscommunications that spur decades of resentment all matched by true and genuine love and devotion. Her parents are each startling characters in their own right--her mother is a true skinflint who would rather serve up wormy soup (twice) than throw away an ancient packet of "perfectly good" mix; her father is a proud and well-mannered man with a temper that can be explosive.

All Things Consoled is a startlingly beautiful memoir that addresses the exquisite agony of family, the unstoppable force of dementia, and the inevitability of aging.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published September 18, 2018

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About the author

Elizabeth Hay

24 books247 followers
From Elizabeth Hay's web site:
"Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, the daughter of a high school principal and a painter, and one of four children. When she was fifteen, a year in England opened up her world and set her on the path to becoming a writer. She attended the University of Toronto, then moved out west, and in 1974 went north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. For the next ten years she worked as a CBC radio broadcaster in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Toronto, and eventually freelanced from Mexico. In 1986 she moved from Mexico to New York City, and in 1992, with her husband and two children, she returned to Canada, settling in Ottawa, where she has lived ever since.

In 2007 Elizabeth Hay's third novel, Late Nights on Air, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her first novel was A Student of Weather (2000), a finalist for the Giller Prize, the Ottawa Book Award, and the Pearson Canada Reader's Choice Award at The Word on the Street, and winner of the CAA MOSAID Technologies Inc. Award for Fiction and the TORGI Award. Her second novel, Garbo Laughs (2003), won the Ottawa Book Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. Hay is also the author of Crossing the Snow Line (stories, 1989); The Only Snow in Havana (non-fiction, 1992), which was a co-winner of the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-fiction; Captivity Tales: Canadians in New York (non-fiction, 1993), and Small Change (stories, 1997), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the Rogers Communications Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Hay received the Marian Engel Award for her body of work in 2002."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
971 reviews17.6k followers
May 17, 2023
Hegel, Logic

Jianzhi Sengcan, Third Zen Patriarch

Old age can be an awful burden. And here it is exactly that for Elizabeth’s parents and for her, the primary caregiver.

Though proximity is a key factor, it seems that the caregiver role falls often upon the one who owes their parents the most - but has kept that hidden.

On the other hand, the nightmare of it all is felt most keenly by the old folks. In the later years of a longtime relationship, every move each partner can make is the wrong one in the other’s eyes if the old ordinary devotion is gone.

The stress of that deadlock can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

It does here.

The intuition of Being is a fragile thing, for once separated from it (and it is the essence of anyone’s highest ideals) confusion reigns supreme. We lose our way in life, for its freedom is a curse.

Know why that happens?

Because all human minds have shadows lurking in them. Once you lose your ability to love, too much freedom means the shadows will pounce.

Our Shadow self is the origin of all our deep suspicions, doubts and depression. And it can hold sway over the mind of any of us, anytime - but especially in isolation.

We must shore up the strength of our minds to the finish line! Don’t lose your passion.

Elizabeth Hay’s wonderful mother lost hers in the quagmire of senile dementia - and her Dad wasn’t far behind. But strongly individualistic to the end, they each put up a darned good fight.

This book is the story of that fight.

We are each walking a very fine line in this life. Balance is everything. Use your mind carefully, or lose it.

This is by far the most touching work of nonfiction I have read in 2020!

Ms Hay’s parents were quite the couple. Strong, determined and headstrong, they made life fun - and simultaneously tough - for their family and for each other.

Their close friends were few, but each has always loved, respected and admired the other for what they are.

Their memory loss - with resultant damage to their fractured pride - reverts to hopelessness and helplessness, and causes their aporetically-tangled temperaments to by turns implode or explode.

The family atmosphere becomes tense for all concerned.

But the moments of love in their mellowed minds are touching beyond belief. They have a hidden mutual love, a love eternally fed by the hidden springs of mutual admiration for the ideals and enduring values each holds dear.

Yes, this couple gradually loses their earlier strong intuition of the grounding of Being, which one member formerly found in painting, and the other in teaching.

The thread that binds them to each other is becoming tangled in inner conflicts.

Their world is separated more and more from the outside world, by a mere tenth of an inch’s difference.

And that is enough to bring isolation and grief.

And though their struggle to the end is not victorious:

It is supremely valiant...

And SO endearing!

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews16 followers
October 18, 2019
Beautiful- truthful -heartfelt - memoir about Elizabeth's aging parents...
.....Elizabeth's brimful relationship - (at times) -
her parents illness -dementia - retirement home & financial realties....and ultimately love...
The last chapters were especially moving!!!
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,065 reviews26 followers
October 21, 2018
“acts of love are never uncomplicated”

Acclaimed Canadian novelist, Elizabeth Hay has produced a beautifully written and affecting memoir about her parents’ last years. In 2008 when Hay’s narrative opens, the frail couple are in their late eighties and living in London, Ontario, a mid-sized city in the southwest of the province, some seven hours’ drive from the author’s Ottawa home. Gordon, Elizabeth’s father, had been an ambitious secondary school teacher of history and then a high-school principal. He had worked hard to advance his career, ultimately becoming a professor of education at the local university. A frightening, gloomy figure, volcanic in temperament, he would erupt with fury when disobeyed, once throwing his young son hard enough across the dining room for the boy to require stitches. (He would later feel deeply ashamed by his loss of control, but sadly incapable of apology.) Jean Stevenson Hay, Elizabeth’s mother, was born in the Ottawa Valley in 1919 (the same year as her husband), and had apparently trained as a nurse before marrying and bearing four children—Elizabeth being the third. Jean ultimately turned to art, making adventurous journeys (in her sixties) to Canada’s far north in order to explore and sketch the terrain of Ellesmere Island alongside scientists. (This was a time when grants were available for artists to travel to the Canadian Arctic.) Throughout her married life, Jean worked steadily to counterbalance her husband’s dark energy, attempting to bring light into the home. Having a painter’s studio built just off the side of their house when she was 65 no doubt allowed her the physical space for her creativity to flourish and her psychological health to be preserved.

By the end of January 2009, after her mother had undergone two knee surgeries due to a streptococcal lung infection that had spread through the blood, Hay had arranged for Gordon and Jean to live at a retirement home in Ottawa, just a short walk from her house. The move would allow Elizabeth to visit them daily and tend to their needs. Hay documents the physical and cognitive decline of both parents as well as many painful memories from the past. (A particularly sad anecdote concerns Hay’s father’s failure to acknowledge his daughter’s literary achievements. When it came time to winnow down his personal library before vacating the London house, Gordon left behind his daughter’s seven novels, personally inscribed to her parents.) Growing up (and even in adulthood), Hay’s relationship with both parents was fraught. All three of them were touchy, defensive, easily set off. Hay feared and even hated her disapproving and fury-prone father, and she harboured anger towards her mother, who had been so committed to keeping the peace that she did not defend or protect her daughter. Hay is frank about her motivation for taking on the care of her parents as they neared their end: it was due to a kind of competitiveness, a desire to be loved the best of the four children.

This memoir makes clear that old age can be terrifying, gruelling, and heartbreaking—not just for those who endure the ravages directly, the elderly themselves, but for the family members who are there for the duration. In their final years and months, Hay’s parents often expressed the wish that it could all just end quickly—with the help of a pill. In spite of all that is so difficult as loved ones’ lives wind down, there can be moments of beauty and love. There can be opportunities to better understand family members and to appreciate the essential vulnerability of all—even those who have frightened us. Hay writes about some of these moments and about how she came to understand just how deeply her parents’ lives had been woven together.

Hay’s father died in 2011; her mother in 2012. A small photograph of the two together provides a touching and humble conclusion to an interesting and moving narrative.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,368 reviews544 followers
November 15, 2018
I was in dangerous personal territory, in fraught border country in which my parents were sliding into neediness and I was rising in power, yet losing my own life.

All Things Consoled is esteemed Canadian novelist Elizabeth Hay's account of taking on the role as her parents' primary family contact as they reached their final years. Complicating this always demanding function is the difficult relationship that Hay had with her parents, and as she recounts incidents from throughout her life to illustrate lingering resentments or character quirks, Hay deftly assembles a work that serves as a moving memoir of herself and her family. On the one hand, Hay does a nice job of capturing the challenges of the lingering end-of-life years (in which both of her suffering parents wished for “the Dutch passport”), and on the other, I was glad to see that she had enough time with both of them to come to a place of peace and forgiveness. With Hay's thoughtful and polished prose, this was a satisfying read; a fascinating and fitting tribute to complex people.

At the lake, inside the dark cabin that was steeped in my parents' lives, I felt permeated by their presence even though they were absent. That a peaceful place should be so full of tension, that their influence should be so potent, that I could not prevent myself from taking on certain of their characteristics and that these same characteristics expanded inside me until I was bloated with impatience, hard with gassy vile severity.

Hay's father, Gordon, was an educator – he went from teacher to principal to professor over his career – and despite having been raised a peace-loving Quaker, he had a hair-trigger and could snap violently with both his students and his own children. Hay's mother, Jean, was a penny-pinching homemaker (not above serving moldy or wormy food) who discovered painting in middle age, and who always took her husband's side over her children. Not only did Elizabeth resent that her mother refused to see how much her father's constant teasing and painful finger jabs bothered her (“He's only ribbing you, lighten up”), but Jean could never see how her own (often unvoiced but suspected) criticism burdened her daughter; Hay did a wonderful job of illustrating the lifelong family dynamics that were looming over this relationship as she finally convinced her parents to leave the family home and move into care a six minute walk from her own house in another city. How hurtful must it have been for Elizabeth to discover that among the possessions that her parents left behind for disposal were her own seven novels, all personally inscribed to the parents who never once told her they were proud of her? (When a friend once asked Hay's father if he was proud of what his daughter has accomplished, he testily responded, “Well, is she proud of me?” Her mother buried one of her novels in the yard "out of shame".)

The issue that finally forced the relocation was Hay's mother's descent into dementia (and at the same time, her father's physical inability to deal with his wife's declining mental and physical states). As a lover of words and phrasing, Hay delighted in and collected her mother's increasingly peculiar ways of expressing herself, concluding, “Her turns of phrase rather confirmed my view that poetry issues from the holes in our heads, that whatever faculty produces the startling contractions and coinages and leaps in logic that we call poetry is also available at an unconscious and uncontrollable level to someone suffering from dementia.” Now, as my own mother-in-law has Alzheimer's without ever once coming out with a poetic construction, perhaps Jean's words came from the same creative spring as her painting talent rather than pointing to something universal as Hay suggests, but it was this mental quirk that led to the book's title:

I got her to sit on the chesterfield and sat down beside her and put my arms around her again, and she was like an ancient child weeping – lost and weeping. “Where am I?”

I told her where she was. “Where did you think you were?”

“Oh, I'm in many places. Where I am keeps changing.”

We walked to the elevator and she said, “I've got some of my wits. But not all.”

And then there was the day she said, “I've had a good life, all things consoled.”

Hay is honest about her own bitterness and the longheld resentments that she refused to let go of, and she doesn't whitewash how taxing these final years with her parents nearby were for her. As her three siblings all lived far away, convincing her parents to move to Ottawa did invite the burden squarely onto her own shoulders, but as Hay writes, “Yes, I volunteered to take it on, but there was never a moment when I didn't wish to be let off the hook.” (And that's something important for me to remember as my kind-hearted sister-in-law has taken on the care of her parents – including the Mom with Alzheimer's – within a shared home.) Yet still, there was an opportunity for a melting of the icewaters: Hay eventually discovered that just starting off a visit with a kiss to her father's bald head was enough to soften him, as though all he ever wanted was forgiveness for his failings. Even so, as Gordon lay dying and Hay's brother leaned in to assure him that the kids would take good care of Mom when he was gone, their father roared back to life with, “But what about me?” Ultimately, because of their time together in those last years, Hay developed a stronger relationship with each of her parents and grew to appreciate what they meant to each other:

Will I go to my grave thinking my mother should have married another man? Someone more attuned to the creative life, who could have cooked for himself and put in his own eye drops? Who didn't fly off the handle at the drop of a hat? Not anymore. Not after seeing how woven into each other, body and soul, the two of them were.

What must have been a therapeutic experience for Elizabeth Hay to write makes for an engaging and enlightening read; I am enlarged by having read her story.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
September 23, 2018
Emotionally devastating. Elizabeth Hay writes with unflinching honesty and lyrical beauty. This book feels like a gift.
Profile Image for Lori Bamber.
453 reviews15 followers
October 6, 2018
What a remarkable book! Elizabeth Hay is a brilliant, beautiful, effective writer. Here she takes on the most difficult subject of all: the adult child and her parents in decline. Agonizing. So honest it is sometimes off-putting, freeing us all from the constraints imposed by presenting only our polite and polished selves, the one that is too sweet to be really human.

If I was a Pulitzer judge, this would get my vote. It has the potential to change the way we see families and ourselves. And while it can be harsh to read, the end result is kind: we are all broken, stumbling toward happiness, loving as much as we can in our broken way.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,608 reviews2,580 followers
October 10, 2019
“Ancient Romans used to distinguish between senectus (still lively) and decrepitus (done for)” (from Akin by Emma Donoghue). In this memoir about her relationship with her parents, specifically about their last few years, Hay speaks plainly of her belief that they lived too long, a sentiment they would also have echoed. Their final years were marked by illness, depression and her mother’s dementia; it was all so difficult, and expensive. Gordon and Jean Hay stumbled into their early nineties in an Ottawa retirement home they’d moved into in early 2009 so they could be just down the road from their daughter, after 40 years living in London, Ontario. The last straw had been her mother’s knee surgery and infection, after which her mind was never the same and she couldn’t return to her painting.

Elizabeth Hay is one of four children, but caregiving fell to her for one reason and another, and it was bound to be a fraught task because of her parents’ prickly personalities. Her mother could be cheerful, but also had a history of being critical – and thrifty to the point of absurdity: cooking a soup mix though it had worms in it, spooning thick mold off apple sauce and serving it, needling Elizabeth for dumping perfectly good chicken juice a year ago. Her father, meanwhile, had a terrible temper and a history of corporal punishment of his children and of his students when he was a school principal. When they packed for the move to Ottawa, he didn’t take his own daughter’s novels. Now that just seems like spite.

There are many such harsh moments in this memoir, but almost as many wry ones, with Hay picking just the right anecdotes to illustrate her parents’ behavior and the shifting family dynamic. There’s a lemon meringue pie that’s particularly memorable towards the book’s end. And Hay never looks away, no matter how hard it all gets. Her father’s rage against the dying of the light (“What about me? ... Nincompoop! I’m going to live! And the rest of you are going to hell!”) contrasts with her mother’s fade into confusion – which was lightened by the surprisingly poetic turns of phrase she came out with despite her aphasia. The title phrase, for instance, was her attempt at “all things considered.” I wholeheartedly recommend this to readers of Hay’s novels, but anyone can appreciate the picture of complicated love and grief.
Profile Image for Em.
156 reviews
October 17, 2019
Heart-breaking, personal, authentic, raw-not an "Alzheimer's book" or how to guide-a story of one family- yet a story of every family. Will make you think differently about parenting our parents and how you might handle being parented by your children in the future-or making choices not to be......very real and timely conversation-starter for our generation. People are living so much longer than in our grandparent's generation-changes the playing field. In my mother's fairly small home there are 7 residents over 100....

And the writing is beautiful-the kind that flows and paints gorgeous pictures.
Profile Image for JenniferD.
1,006 reviews359 followers
February 4, 2019
so good! elizabeth hay tells a difficult story with grace. while this memoir will be relatable for anyone with aging parents and grandparents who are dealing with declining bodies and minds, hay also includes some wonderful insights and observations around end of life care, family dynamics, and family history.
Profile Image for Laurie • The Baking Bookworm.
1,404 reviews369 followers
October 2, 2018
3.5 STARS - This was the first time I had read a book by Canadian author Elizabeth Hay. In All Things Consoled, she writes about her complicated relationship with her parents growing up as well as the changing dynamic between herself and her parents as they aged.

Hay's writing is frank, especially when she discusses her turbulent childhood and the complicated relationship she had with her parents. Through the ups and downs, her love for her parents is the focus of the book and there are some emotional scenes. There were some issues which were hard to read, and others were emotional so readers who can relate to dealing with aging parents may want to keep the Kleenex handy.

I couldn't relate as much to Hay's experiences and that may have influenced my feelings for the book. The vast majority of reviewers have raved about this book and while I feel odd rating someone's life experiences, I didn't feel as connected to the book as I had hoped.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher for my complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books229 followers
December 3, 2021
A sensitive, moving and honest account of dealing with the decline and death of the author's parents. Aging parents can be difficult, and the family dynamic can be sharpened into an uncomfortable, unrelenting focus.

Elizabeth Hay is a novelist, and brings her impressive writerly skills to this memoir. For those of us who have aging parents, there is always a degree of overlap with our individual experiences, as well as areas of divergence. Eldercare is a privilege and a responsibility, and also, yes, can try our patience.

All in all, I was grateful I had written my own memoir before picking up this splendid book. At first I was concerned about the similarities, but then I realized that after all we are not reinventing the wheel here. The similarities are understandable and, in many ways, comforting. It feels validating to know I was not alone in my predicament and reactions.
Profile Image for ❀ Susan G.
690 reviews51 followers
July 28, 2019
A tale of consolation, love and coming to terms with the messiness of family as the author cares for her parents as they age. Tissues are needed as Hay's says good bye to her parents and reflects on lifetimes of moments as their relationship changed as they aged and declined.
293 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2020
As we've just moved my 91-year old mother into assisted living, this sweet, sad book deeply resonated with me.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
732 reviews4 followers
January 17, 2019
I am a huge Elizabeth Hay fan (well, she's had some real winners and others that I am so-so on), so I really enjoyed reading her memoir. She details her life growing mostly in terms of her relationships with her parents and how it shaped her-what did they expect, were they proud, how did they get along... And a little bit on how her brothers and sisters fared with the same parents, eg why not as combative, or why 1 kid picked on more than others, or is that how all of them remember it, etc. I just thought it was very very interesting. Hay is much older than I think I had imagined in my head, which surprised me because I almost always read up on the authors that I like. Altogether, joyful to read!
152 reviews
January 12, 2020
This is not an easy read if you have recently lost a parent or have an infirm or terminally ill parent. If I had known the subject matter, I would not have ready it, but perhaps it was what I needed just now. Because I have recently lost my Dad, I found this a hard go in places, however, the writing style is not sentimental and I found it comforting regarding the shared experience of bearing witness at the end of a parents life.
The realization that our parents are flawed people who many or many not have tried their best to be good parents can be a shocking one. Why did they do what they did? The author does not shy away from difficult, sometimes bizarre happenings from her childhood and adulthood. The relationship between parent and child/adult child is complex and multilayered. We carry certain pivotal events with us and these shape the way we interact with our parents when we are adults. How do we forgive them and offer them unconditional love as they age and the balance shifts to us caring for them, them increasingly relying on us? How do we maintain compassion even as we wrestle with hurts from our deep past? We can choose to parent in a different way, mindful of how our parents affected our emotional wellbeing when we were small.
All these issues are raised in this memoir that follows the last few years of both of her parents lives, but also dips back into the past to illuminate vivid memories of her parents personalities and relationships. A thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Colleen.
1,479 reviews44 followers
December 26, 2018
Elizabeth Hay certainly doesn’t pull any punches as she tells her story of how she looked after her parents in the final years of their lives. She takes us through their steady (and occasionally sudden) decline, and describes exactly what it’s like for an adult child caregiver to be in charge of their elderly parents’ health as they inch towards the end of the lives.

She obviously loves her parents and shows great compassion, but she is truthful about her frustration and guilt in dealing with a situation she hadn’t envisioned and how her parents’ care impacted on her life. She is also brutally honest about her family’s history, particularly her father’s abusive past with his children and wife. I don’t know if I would be willing to bare all to the extent that she has. I appreciate her honesty and courage to tell us the whole story, and not just the pleasant parts.
Profile Image for Laurie W.
117 reviews
March 4, 2020
Hay perceives and writes so well. I’m not sure about the entertainment value of this non-fiction book about the diminishment and death of her aging parents but for someone like me who is going through it, it was affirming and resonant and comforting. The relationship between adult children and their parents is very complicated!
1,937 reviews10 followers
October 24, 2021
In this short memoir published in 2018, well-known and prize-winning Canadian writer Elizabeth Hay looks back on the period in her life when she helped care for her aging parents. Jean and Gordon Hay moved from London to Ottawa after Jean had a bad fall and hurt her knee. It became infected and required surgery but Jean was never quite the same afterwards. Gordon, although healthier and deeply devoted to his wife, knew they had reached the point where they could no longer cope on their own, so they sold the home they had lived in for forty years, pared down their possessions and moved to a senior’s residence about six minutes away from their daughter and her family. Hay visited her parents every day and had them for Sunday dinners until a little more than three years, both parents had died.

Hay’s narrative moves back in forth in time as she remembers her life growing up, considers her difficult relationship with her father and the strain of taking on a caregiving role.

Gordon Hay was a respected high school teacher but had an explosive temper and was physically abusive to both his students and his children. His wife Jean hated conflict and used every means possible to keep peace at home. She ignored or rationalized her husband’s physical abuse of his children, which for Elizabeth, finally stopped when she reached puberty. Elizabeth wanted to ask her mother if she knew Gordon was physically violent before she married him, but she never got a clear answer.

Elizabeth fills her narrative with memories of her family life, including old family grudges and sibling rivalries. She bares her feelings about many hard moments, unafraid of confronting the truth. What becomes evident is how she and her siblings experienced family life differently. Her sister was more able to take her father’s abuse while Hay crumbled under his critical eye. Gordon never gave his daughter credit for any of her literary work and in an emotional passage, Hay remembers how difficult it was to see her books left for charity after he had pared down his belongings to move into the senior’s residence. Hay had lovingly inscribed each of the books she gave her parents, but there wasn’t even one her father valued enough to keep on his shelves. At no time did he ever comment on or praised her work, a fact that hurt her deeply.

Hay was closer to her mother, a talented painter who sought inspiration for her canvas in the outdoors. She speaks of her mother obsession with food, so frugal she saved everything, refusing to throw out anything that had gone bad and instead served it to her family. She describes her father’s love of teaching history and his belief his brother was the greater achiever in his family, the smarter and more accomplished one and why he felt himself to be the lesser of the two.

Hay speaks of the physical demands and her complex emotions during this time when she tried to understand her parents better. She found it difficult to watch these once independent people become dependent on others, struggling when they could not do the things that brought them joy, concerned their money might run out and slowly taking each step on the slide toward the end of their life’s journey.

Hay felt much more attached to her mother and so much of this memoir is focused on Jean who lasted for a period after Gordon died in 2011. She experienced a gradual mental descent in which dementia constantly tripped up her mind and memory, although at times she would experience short but startling periods of clarity. Without Gordon, physically infirm, confused and unable to paint or be outdoors and fading into confusion, she just wanted her life to end. She felt life was no longer worth the difficult experience it had become. She died in 2012.

Hay is glad her parents’ lives didn’t last any longer than they did, with her father dying at 91 and her mother at 92 years of age. They were both ready and more than willing to go. But she is also grateful they didn’t die suddenly, without giving her a chance to say good-bye.

Much of this book is heart breaking to read. Hay is critical of her own behavior, recognizing and writing honestly about her own neediness. In looking back, she thinks about why she volunteered to take up this role in her parents’ last days. With her brothers and sisters scattered across the country in Montreal, Halifax and Mexico City, most of the practical and physical care fell in her hands. They were supportive but at times she was angry as her daily visits began taking a greater toll on her physically and emotionally. But Hay admits she wanted to prove she could be generous and she realizes that pride and sibling rivalry also played a part in her decision. She wanted to be acknowledged and receive credit for what she was doing, putting her life on hold to attend to her parents’ needs. There were times during these long months when she would be filled with self- pity, silently hoarding petty resentments and grievances as well as feelings of tenderness and love. There were days when she thought the long journey would never end and she just could not go on any longer. She admits that “a certain freedom” came with the death of her parents, as the years of care giving had taken its toll. But after her parents were gone, all she felt was the heavy burden of grief.

Hay has crafted a compelling memoir, brutal in its honesty and at times painful to read. It will resonate with those who have struggled to look after aged and infirmed parents and for those who have not, it describes the difficult reality of what may lie ahead.

This memoir was recognized with the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and was short listed for the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize. It is beautifully written and most readers will find a connection with this story of her love for her parents, her honesty about this difficult period in her life and the grief she still carries.

Profile Image for Jeanne Bank.
38 reviews
October 8, 2018
I heard on an interview and knew I had to read this- currently going through a similar situation of caregiving - so beautifully written - raw and honest
Profile Image for Connie.
112 reviews4 followers
January 23, 2023
Elizabeth Hay shines a near blinding light on her parents’ decline into old age and their rapidly increasing dependence on her to take charge of them. Hay is tough-minded and observant in a way that reminds me of Joan Didion. She mostly keeps herself out of the story, preferring to keep the spotlight on her father and mother. I enjoyed her description of her mother: a dedicated artist, a mother and homemaker, a bullied and belittled wife, who struggled to keep the domestic peace, despite a mean and violent father in the home. At the end of her life, Jean succumbed to dementia that played havoc with her words. Hay, the wordsmith, sometimes delighted in her mother’s curious turns of phrase, a rare pleasure in the grind of her care-giving.,

In her picture of her father, Gordon, I did feel she was straining a little to bring some balance to his darkness.
I found him repellent: a bully whose last words to his children were a curse. And he wasn’t demented.

At one point, Hay describes him as a “ a man with a streak of melancholy, like some men have a streak of meanness.” Huh? This is the only false note in an otherwise moving and no-holds-barred examination of how she managed admirably the gruelling task of caring for aged parents.
Profile Image for Gabriele Goldstone.
Author 6 books29 followers
April 23, 2019
Very much enjoyed this. Reading it was like dinner with a good friend, discussing the many layers of parent-care and family relationships. My parents are now both deceased and I miss them. But I'm in my sixties and feel a new freedom with this orphan-stage of life while some of my friends of mine are wrapped up in complicated care-giving relationships.

I especially loved the ending and the dilemma of the lemon meringue pie. I'm happy that it worked out so well in the end. Not sure my mom could have handled any of my perfect pies, but maybe I'm underestimating her. Recommended memoir for anyone dealing with aging parents. Someday it might be us. I'd be honoured if one of my daughters was as kind and thoughtful as Elizabeth Hay.
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 7 books131 followers
December 17, 2018
A memoir about caring for aging parents until their death. The book is structured as a season of essays. It's thoughtful and well thought out, and Hay doesn't sugarcoat the ugliness of old age or her parents' lives. Her father was sometimes rather abusive and hard.

I found this book very easy to relate to, even though my parents are still in good health. Hay is talking about a basic human experience- caring for aging parents, and I don't think I've read many memoirs about that. Recommended.
Profile Image for Sue Bolton.
6 reviews
January 21, 2019
This book really resonated with me for many reasons. I lost my Mother in September, a day before this book hit the shelves. I watched her waste away in much the same way as described in this book. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to endure in my 58 years on this planet. My Mother lived in London, On. I live in Kingston, On, not far from Ottawa. The similarities really hit home. I had such a flood of emotions and allowed the tears to flow. I have 22 years experience working in Long Term Care and, while everyone's experience is unique, have seen many, many people endure similar circumstances. It's different when it is your own parent. This book certainly brings out just about every emotion imaginable, or so it did for me.
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181 reviews
April 22, 2021
What a beautiful story! I had tears in my eyes at the end. I look at my mother, 100 years young and realize how lucky I am to have her in my life. She is fortunate that her mind is sharp, her body mobile and still living in her own home.
196 reviews
May 7, 2019
Hit close to home as I am also the primary caregiver for my parents. I could relate to the author's struggles and range of emotions in the day to day dealings with aging parents.
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