About the Author

Jann Arden

Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and one of Canada`s most precious resources, recording artist Jann Arden is the winner of eight Junos (including the 2002 Juno for "Best Songwriter"), and a substantial collection of other awards and honours. She is also an avid painter, philanthropist and multi-dimensional performer, having appeared in The Vagina Monologues, a feature film and at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. With record sales in the millions from her seven CDs (that includes fourteen top ten singles), Jann`s eighth CD will be released in early 2005. Jann currently resides outside of Calgary, Alberta.

Books by this Author
Falling Backwards

Falling Backwards

A Memoir
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

I look across my yard every morning at my parents’ little house. They live fifty feet from me now. I can see their lights go on in the morning and shut off at night. I can see them moving about in the yard when they’re watering plants or cutting wood or when my mother is digging up her flower beds. I watch them and I smile. Sometimes I catch myself wondering what in the world I will do when they are not there anymore. I drink cold water and tell myself to stop being so selfish. I close my eyes tightly and open them again, hoping that my thoughts will be cleared away. They never are completely.
 
I have fourteen acres of land west of Calgary, not far from where I grew up. Not far from where this story begins. My mother and father met on a blind date in the late fifties, before there were colour TVs and cellphones and CDs and computers and even Spanx, for that matter. My mom’s old friend Freda, who’s now deceased, was determined to set my mother up with her boyfriend’s pal, convincing her that this blind date would be different. Freda told my mom that this guy was funny and smart and had a job, for Pete’s sake! What else could a girl possibly want? Freda didn’t seem to care that my mother kind of already had a boyfriend (though my mother says she never really liked him all that much anyway), and asked what would one little date on a Saturday night hurt anybody? My mother reluctantly agreed to go out with my dad. The rest, as they say . . .
 
It’s hard to believe that my parents are still together and going strong some fifty-three years later. They have survived things that would have crushed most couples. They persevered where others would have cracked in half. I don’t think I could have done what my mother and father did, and that was to go ever forward with their shoulders back and their jaws set straight and their faith unwavering. Both my parents lasted. They beat the odds. They survived each other, for starters, and that was—and is—no small feat. I don’t know if something was in the water, but not a single one of my friends’ parents divorced either. I thought about that one day and just shook my head. It says a lot about the company I kept and continue to keep all these years later.
 
My parents are my treasures. They are my secret weapon, my shield, my strength and my faith. Whenever I went off the rails, and that was fairly often as I was figuring out how to be a person, I turned to them for comfort and solace and direction and forgiveness. They were always there for me, always.
 
I sometimes see my dad standing in the yard. He’s perfectly still and quiet, with his arms resting on his rake, and he’s looking off over the fields. I wonder what he’s thinking about. I wonder if he’s thinking what I am thinking.
 
I asked him once what it was like getting older, and he told me that he couldn’t feel it and he couldn’t see it in the mirror either. He said he just saw himself the same way he always was. I think about that conversation a lot.
 
So many things have changed around me, but I still see the same face when I look in the mirror. I know what my dad meant. Living is a process. You plod along and hope you’re on the right road and if you’re not, well, that’s okay too. I know that from experience now.
 
When I was in my early twenties, I moved out to Vancouver for a few years and managed to get myself into a lot of trouble. Not legal trouble, but emotional and spiritual trouble. I felt so lost and so down and out. I made one mistake after another. I was on some kind of self-destruct mode. Eventually I picked myself up and hosed myself down and ended up, as my mother often says, making something of myself, despite myself. She also says to me, “Thank God you could sing, or who knows where you’d have ended up.” I don’t like to think about that.
 
Years later I returned to Vancouver for a series of sold-out concerts. It was a giant contrast to the days when I was busking on the streets for a buck or two to buy cigarettes and wine. I couldn’t believe I was there, standing on a beautiful, brightly lit stage, singing my songs for people who had paid to see me. I felt vindicated somehow. I’d survived the stupidity of my youth.
 
After one of the shows I had the limo driver take me across the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore, where I’d gotten myself into so much trouble. I had him drive by my old apartment building on Third Street, where I had lived twenty-five years earlier. It was boarded up, to no one’s surprise—least of all mine. It stood there like a tombstone. The pouring rain added nicely to the movie I was creating in my head. I saw my young self, staggering in drunk through the beat-up front door. I closed my eyes and clearly pictured the old mattress on the floor, the ironing board I used as a kitchen table, my beloved cassette deck. I sat in the car for ten or fifteen minutes with the window down, looking out at the street. The cold rain was spitting at my face.
 
I won, I thought to myself. I won. I felt a weight lift off my heart. I said a prayer in my head about gratitude and forgiveness, and then I had the driver take me back across the big bridge to my hotel. I lay in my bed that night and thought about how I’d gotten to where I was that day. I fell asleep smiling.
 

close this panel
Feeding My Mother

Feeding My Mother

Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with her Mom's Memory Loss
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
Excerpt

INTRODUCTION
I remember the first day it happened. I remember the first time she forgot something big. It wasn’t the kind of lapse we all have from time to time—forgetting where we put our keys or our cell phones, or where we parked the car. This was a big sudden void. Right after it happened, that morning eight years ago now, I felt a discomfort insert itself at the back of my throat that hasn’t really eased up since. It’s hard for me to remember what my life used to feel like. It’s hard for me to remember my old mom.

We had been sitting having a visit with my sister-in-law, Lori, talking about life things: the weather, the grandkids, jobs, the progress of our summer garden. Everything seemed perfectly normal. My sister-in-law at some point brought up the subject of her old cat. “I didn’t want to tell you, Joan,” she said to my mom, “but we had to have her put down a few days ago. God, whatever you guys do, don’t tell Duray about it as he’ll be devastated.”

My brother Duray was in jail, as he had been for the last twenty-five years, for first-degree murder—a murder he has always denied committing. He isn’t really up to speed on what is going on around our lives out here in the free world, and he’s very sensitive to anything the least bit upsetting. I’m sure it’s because he feels so helpless. I think that’s why Lori wanted to spare him the news about their cat.

“I would never say a word,” Mom said. Lori went on about how sick the cat had been and that she hadn’t found the right moment to tell Duray she was gone. We talked about it in detail for at least fifteen minutes. Mom seemed to be carefullylistening to the story, consoling and responding in all the right places. Lori repeated again as she walked out the door, “Please don’t say anything, okay, you guys?”

Mom said, “We won’t, Lori. Mom’s the word.” And we all had a bit of a laugh.

Lori waved goodbye, hopped into her little blue compact and pulled out of the driveway. Before the car had even disappeared down the road, Mom’s phone rang, and it was Duray. The first thing that came out of her mouth, was, “You wouldn’t believe it, but your cat died!” I stood there in her kitchen in disbelief.

“MOM!” I waved my arms in the air trying to get her attention.

“What?” she asked with her hand over the receiver. “I’m on the phone!”

“Jesus, you weren’t supposed to tell him that!”

“Tell him what?” She looked at me blankly. She really didn’t know what she wasn’t supposed to
tell him.

“About the cat dying! What are you thinking?”

That was the day. From one single second to the next, my life, my mom’s life, my dad’s life, my brothers’ lives, the lives of all of our friends and family, were altered profoundly. My mom had started the journey down the lonely, confusing road called Alzheimer’s disease.

I would spend the next two years in denial. I made excuses for both my parents over and over again as the memory thieves slowly stole things from right beneath our noses. I chalked the frequent lapses up to garden-variety old age and tried to leave it at that. My dad had had a stroke several years earlier, so we already knew he had severe memory and mobility issues, but my mom was the normal one. She was the glue that held everything together. She dedicated her days to looking after my dad, coordinating his appointments and doling out his medications. She looked after their house and their yard and their meals and all the driving. I desperately needed her to be okay and I was also too scared to think about what was happening.

I must have hoped if I ignored it enough, and wished it away often enough, my mom would start remembering again. But that’s not the way Alzheimer’s works. I have come to think of it as a cruel and haphazard sculptor. It chisels away at a person, one tiny piece at a time, exposing a mind to every form of loss and sadness. Uncovering every nerve and every bone and every vein. It doesn’t stop until it cuts away the last breath. We lived through a small stretch in which my mom knew she was forgetting things. It seemed only a matter of hours to me, but it was actually a short few months where she was aware of things going missing and time being lost and tasks being left undone. She admitted to me once or twice that she knew she was forgetting things. I will never forget her saying to me, “I know I can’t remember the way I used to, Jann. It could always be worse, you know. I hope you never let me become a filthy old lady.” Those words are stuck inside my heart like wet leaves in a gutter.

I have spent the last few years in various stages of grief and fear and frustration and anger. I’m not sure half the time if I am doing things right with my mom, or screwing things up, but I do know that none of that matters. What matters are the moments spent with the people you love. What matters is setting judgement and resentment aside so that tolerance and patience and kindness can move into your soul and live there in their forever home. Life is never dull. That’s what Mom always says. “Life may be hard, but it’s not dull . . .”

Mom’s journey, and my journey with her, is far from over and for that I am grateful. In these last eight years I have learned more about compassion and empathy and forgiveness than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that something good can come from something bad: facing adversity can make you a much better version of yourself. I’ve learned that having a sense of humour is crucial in order to survive these trying days. I’ve also learned that feeding my mother, making her a great home-cooked meal, provides both of us with grace and solace and peace, that food is so important for our wellness and contentment. You can soothe pretty much any heartache with a loaf of bread and a hot bowl of soup!

And I’ve learned that writing it all down can save me, which is what I started doing when everything around me began to feel unsteady. Seeing what was happening in front of me on the page made it much less daunting. And sharing my thoughts and feelings on social media made all the difference. I guess I wanted to reach out and tell somebody, anybody, about what was happening to my family. I didn’t want to feel alone in a room with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to throw open every door and window and let the light in. I wanted to unload some of the burden of carrying my parents’ secrets. I wanted to rid myself of this weird shame I was feeling because they were forgetting themselves. I started feeling like I was being forgotten too, lost in this pile of nothingness. It all seemed like such a mess, and some days it still does. I was talking with a friend about how I was feeling a few months ago, and she described how she felt orphaned when she lost her parents even though she was a grown-up. I think that’s exactly how I feel, even though Mom is still here physically. I feel like an orphan.

It turned out that sending out an account of my daily adventures with my folks was life-changing. People started writing back, sharing their doubts and fears and frustrations with me. It changed everything in such a positive, wonderful way. I am so grateful to all of them—to all of you. It takes bravery to share your troubles. It takes grit and guts and gumption. Thank you for easing my troubles, for putting your wisdom and pain out there for everyone to benefit from. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent propped up in my bed reading through the hundreds and hundreds of comments you’ve left on my Facebook pages. I’ve laughed out loud and cried quietly and I have to say, I feel much less alone for having reached out. Losing someone an inch at a time is extremely hard.

This book is a glimpse into my journey with memory loss but it’s also a journey that thousands and thousands of us are on with our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and uncles and aunts and grandmothers and grandfathers and even children.

Alzheimer’s and dementia have always been there, but perhaps families in earlier generations absorbed their elderly folks into the fold of home more gracefully. Many of us these days don’t have the kind of lives or rooted family structures that enable us to cope with parents, or grandparents, who can’t manage on their own, and we have to find nursing homes for them. Some of these places are great, some not so good, some downright depressing and dehumanizing. It’s an agonizing decision and one that can be hard to live with. So far I’ve been lucky enough to have the means to keep Mom at home with me, and ways to meet the challenges that entails. The stories and the recipes in this book are what I have to share about how we’re managing—about the road my mom and all the people who love her are travelling. It was written with humility, and sadness, and fear, and panic, and joy.

What I’ve learned is that no matter what comes you’ve got to wrap yourself in all the goodness you can muster. That’s what my mom does every single day.

Last week as we were driving into town to buy a few groceries, she told me that she was eighty per cent happy. That made me laugh really hard. “Eighty per cent, Mom? Well, that’s way better than me!”

She told me that I would have to work on that . . .

close this panel
If I Knew Then

If I Knew Then

Finding wisdom in failure and power in aging
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Show editions
close this panel

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...