Jann Arden can bring a room of people to tears through song, only to have them, moments later, rolling in the aisles from her off-the-cuff comedy. She can also put all that one hold to care for loved ones—which is exactly what she did when her father passed in 2015. Left to care for her mom—a mother to her mother—a woman declining and dealing with dementia, Arden began sharing some of her experiences on social media. Now her story of frustration, loss, inspiration, strength, and even humour shines through in a very personal book: Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss.
The Toronto Star interviewed Arden on it, and here are a few of those questions:
In the book, you write that you are terrified and angry watching your parents’ health decline; meanwhile they’re lighthearted, happy and unaware of what’s happening. Then at one point you surrender and accept their reality.
Yeah — and boy did it save me so much grief. My mom is way less anxious. Imagine someone telling you that you don’t have a silver dress on when you have a silver dress on. Mom saw people (who were not there) for a long time. That was very frustrating for me. I would, literally, grab her arm and take her across the yard and say, “Where are they?” She would say, “They’re right there. I know you can’t see them, but I can.” She was saying there was nothing wrong and I was trying to prove to her that we’ve got problems here. It was very selfish on my part. But naïve too. It’s a disease that’s very tricky. It seemed to me like it was one day to the next that she was incapable of being my mother anymore. I don’t fight her anymore. If she thinks there are people on my deck with orange hats I agree with her.
What was that role reversal like?
Kind of shitty. I never thought of myself as the least bit maternal. But it’s amazing you can step into these roles, even reluctantly. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I am more resilient than I thought I was.
What’s this journey been like for you? At points you talk of feeling depressed and experiencing anxiety attacks.
I had two choices: Either row this boat further out to sea and just abandon myself and feel sorry for myself or make my way back to shore and look after my physical body. That’s what came first . . . I don’t drink alcohol anymore, I’m eating better, I’ve lost a lot of weight, I exercise, I got out of a 10-year relationship . . . I asked for help. I reached out to my friends. I got professional help (from) caregivers (to watch over my mom in her home) . . . I really went after work hard and fast . . . I feel better now than I did 20 years ago. I’m a much better version of myself.
If you’re in Toronto, Jann will be at Yorkdale Shopping Centre’s Indigo this evening (Wednesday, November 22) signing copies of the book from 7pm.