If You Liked x, Read y: Parenting Your Parents Edition

What changed between the publications of Clem and Olivier Martini’s celebrated Bitter Medicine in 2010 and The Unravelling (both Freehand Books) in 2017? Their mother’s health: while she and Olivier managed to help each other’s respective mobility issues and schizophrenia in the past, Catherine Martini’s slip into dementia rocked the family’s precarious stability. Publisher of Freehand Kelsey Attard shares how their journey to a new equilibrium – mapped out in The Unravelling – parallels that of singer Jann Arden’s Feeding My Mother.


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In Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss, Jann Arden writes about her life with her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. Since then, Jann has shared recollections and observations about her role as caregiver on social media – “I am a mother to my mother,” she writes in the book – and received an overwhelming outpouring of support from fans who can relate to what she’s going through.There are an awful lot of us who can relate to the experience of having a loved one with dementia. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 564,000 Canadians currently live with dementia, and in just fifteen years, that number will increase to 937,000.The fact that dementia is so prevalent is heartbreaking. And yet it’s also incredibly isolating for the families who are experiencing it, and difficult for them to know what decisions they should make. “There isn’t a handbook telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Alzheimer’s is a different disease for every single person it inhabits,” says Arden.Brothers Clem and Olivier Martini can relate to that sense of isolation and uncertainty. Olivier had lived with his mother, Catherine, since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1980, each providing the other with care and support in a myriad of different ways, especially as Catherine grew frailer. When Catherine was diagnosed with dementia, the family’s carefully constructed setup of caregiving began to fall apart.
In The Unravelling, Clem writes, “Dementia is often described as a kind of ‘decline’ – as though it were a leisurely descent down a gently rolling hillside. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dementia isn’t a decline: it’s a plummet from a precipice. And as you fall you strike against the rocky cliff face, each strike removing another portion of who you were. Strike! – there goes your short-term memory. Strike! – there goes your ability to read. Strike! – there goes your recognition of faces.”Families who have experienced or are living with a loved one with dementia will find solace in The Unravelling – it shows that they are not alone, that others are going through the same things, the “uncomfortable,disturbing, embarrassing, unsettling [things] that people all over the country find themselves living secretly every single day.” And more than that, it’s a call to action, that our health care system desperately needs change, to respond properly to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and also provide their families and caregivers with appropriate support and resources.* * *Thanks so much to Kelsey at Freehand for sharing The Unravelling as the perfect follow-up to Feeding My Mother. For more books like other books, click here.