The Unsink­able Jann Ar­den

With her par­ents struck by de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s, the Cana­dian songstress turns care­giver. She shares this jour­ney in a mov­ing new book on life, love and food By Mike Criso­lago Pho­tog­ra­phy by Alkan Emin

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS -

At 55, the Cana­dian songstress is “tak­ing care of Mom and me”

IMET JANN AR­DEN at a down­town Toronto ho­tel on a re­cent over­cast day, not in a cosy suite but, rather, a com­pact grey con­fer­ence room with an ob­structed win­dow, tucked away be­yond a labyrinth of halls and doors. The 55-year-old ar­rived and ran a hand through her windswept blond hair as she eval­u­ated the space: “What is this place?” We shared a laugh, and she reached into her purse to re­trieve a pack of fruit-flavoured candy and what looked like a gra­nola bar. “Well,” she noted with a pos­i­tive spin, “I’ve got these.” Ar­den, of course, has a knack for nav­i­gat­ing the un­ex­pected, spend­ing the last decade car­ing both for her late fa­ther, who suf­fered with de­men­tia and died in 2015, and her mother, who con­tin­ues to bat­tle Alzheimer’s, while en­dur­ing the in­evitable chal­lenges and heart­break that ac­com­pany it. She chron­i­cles the jour­ney in her lat­est book, Feed­ing My Mother – part mem­oir, part cook­book – and on a new tune, “A Long Good­bye,” ahead of an up­com­ing al­bum due next spring.

As I dis­cov­ered that af­ter­noon, how­ever, Ar­den re­fuses to al­low even the storm of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s that has blown through her fam­ily to sink her fa­mously raw hon­esty – or her wit. MIKE CRISO­LAGO Feed­ing My Mother is a pow­er­ful, per­sonal read. What made you want to write it? JANN AR­DEN I think it started out as a plea for help and for feed­back from peo­ple. I started writ­ing jour­nals on the in­ter­net – writ­ing about my mom on Face­book. Some­times over a mil­lion peo­ple would read it. And I think what I re­al­ized very early on [is] what a catas­tro­phe mem­ory-loss ill­nesses were. But I was blown away by the thou­sands and thou­sands and thou­sands of re­sponses that I got from peo­ple that didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to put their par­ents or their hus­bands or their wives or their grand­par­ents ... So I think that’s where it stemmed from – com­pil­ing five or six years of writ­ing about the mem­ory loss of my par­ents and what my ex­pe­ri­ence was like. MC And the cook­ing el­e­ment of the book? JA I’ve been cook­ing for my mom and dad for 10 years be­cause they weren’t able to cook any­more, so I had to learn how to cook. Which is re­ally sweet but I’m like, “Holy sh*t, this is not just me go­ing to Sub­way any­more. I got to fig­ure out what to feed these peo­ple.” And so I had put all these recipes to­gether be­cause I’m an avid foodie. I knew I al­ways wanted to call it Feed­ing My Mother just be­cause there was a psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect to it … But just to sit down and eat is im­por­tant, and I like what it says, too – when you feed some­one spir­i­tu­ally, when you feed their souls and when you feed them emo­tional well­ness. MC It’s a great av­enue into the sub­ject of Alzheimer’s, too, through food. JA My mom now is hav­ing trou­ble eat­ing. If you put a sand­wich in front of her, she’ll take it apart, and you have to say, “Mom, no, just pick it up with your hands.” And she doesn’t want to do that. Her brain is like, “No. What the f**k is this?” But she can still sit and peel car­rots for me or peel a potato. She’ll peel a potato down to … lit­tle sliv­ers, but it cooks fast. You can boil a sliv­ered potato in, like, eight sec­onds. MC: What early signs of de­men­tia and/or Alzheimer’s did you no­tice in your par­ents? JA: My dad had quite a bad

stroke about 12 years ago, and he never re­ally came back. He was a very clever man and, when the stroke hap­pened, it was very much per­son­al­ity, and he couldn’t talk very well any­more. He just didn’t un­der­stand sim­ple things. So his de­men­tia started there. With my mom, it was repet­i­tive­ness. We all tell the same god­damn sto­ries. I do it now at 55. “Did I tell you about when I got hit by that duck?” But most of us can hear a story 10 times and re­al­ize that there’s a prob­lem. And just mak­ing up things like, “Oh your dad and I climbed up that moun­tain.” It was re­ally ran­dom things, and then it was, “How do I use this can opener?” Read­ing time off a clock. It’s just stolen. She still knows names. They call it “pre­sent­ing well.” You could sit and talk to my mom for a few min­utes and you’d say, “She’s re­ally awe­some.” But she’d never find her way out of this build­ing. MC And your mother was show­ing signs of Alzheimer’s long be­fore your fa­ther died. JA Yeah, but he had skills that she didn’t have. When peo­ple have been mar­ried for al­most 60 years, they cheat for each other. I’d say, “Have you guys eaten?” “Yes.” “What’d you eat?” “Well, ask your dad.” They worked in tan­dem. They started throw­ing out ap­pli­ances be­cause they couldn’t fig­ure it out. My dad would un­plug it and chuck it in the garbage can. I would go fish the thing out and plug it back in. You have to go along and have some com­pas­sion. I even­tu­ally had to put my dad in a nurs­ing home be­cause he couldn’t walk any­more. And then my mom re­ally failed. So now I have full-time help for her, but I don’t know how peo­ple – and [many] have to do it be­cause of fi­nances – how they give up their jobs, move their par­ent(s) in and look af­ter them be­cause it’s ex­pen­sive. So we have to fig­ure it out. MC How did tak­ing care of your par­ents af­fect how you took care of your own health? JA: I had to change a lot of things. I was get­ting re­ally un­well. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I just started eat­ing bet­ter and I started feed­ing my par­ents. Ob­vi­ously, I’m start­ing to cook food for my­self all the time, but good food. Lots of veg­eta­bles and ex­er­cis­ing. I was very de­pressed and I wasn’t sleep­ing well, and I thought, “I’ve got to make some changes.” I stopped drink­ing al­co­hol com­pletely. When you say to your­self, “I’m just drink­ing too much,” you’ve prompted a di­a­logue that you have to re­spond to. So I’ve changed ev­ery­thing in the last two years but I feel much more ca­pa­ble and much more clear, way less anx­i­ety. Reach­ing out for help. I didn’t want to bur­den my friends, now I hit my friends up. I talk about it. I think for three or four years I just couldn’t be­lieve it was hap­pen­ing, and I was very scared be­cause what does the fu­ture look like? The peo­ple that have looked af­ter you your whole life sud­denly dis­ap­pear. And then when my dad died, you kind of feel or­phaned. I’m like, “Holy sh*t, I’m ac­tu­ally a grown-up per­son. I’m on my own now.” I ended a 10-year re­la­tion­ship. When you have a part­ner who says, “It’s your par­ents or me,” okay, well, I guess it’s my par­ents. So it’s funny how ev­ery­thing hap­pens at once. MC What’s it like, then, to be away from your mother to tour and record? JA It’s dif­fi­cult. I phone ev­ery day. Usu­ally the care worker is right there when I FaceTime, but Mom al­ways has it point­ing at the ceil­ing or she puts it by her ear. It’s hard to have a con­ver­sa­tion. Her brain is get­ting less and less, so that’s kind of dif­fi­cult. Re­ally even af­ter 40 or 50 sec­onds, it’s over­whelm­ing. But I have cam­eras in her house, so I watch her like a hawk. You just have to check in, and life goes on. My mom would know that I would have to work. They knew that it was im­por­tant to me, and that’s some­thing I had to do. MC You have a new al­bum com­ing out in the spring. Does writ­ing and record­ing mu­sic help you to cope? JA Mu­sic is such a dis­trac­tion, but I never know what I’m go­ing to write about. I didn’t pur­posely start out to write about my mom or that ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s just some­thing that when you write it down, you’re like, “Oh, I think this is about my mom and about this ex­pe­ri­ence.” I wrote the en­tire record with the ex­cep­tion of

a cou­ple of songs with [le­gendary Cana­dian pro­ducer] Bob Rock ... I think it’s the best record I’ve done in 20 years. It’s very ag­gres­sive for me. There’s bluesy things on there [and] stuff that peo­ple are go­ing to be very sur­prised that it is me. MC So at this point in your ca­reer and life, where do you find cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion? JA Gosh, just life in gen­eral. I think the older you get, the more you re­al­ize it’s so great. It’s just hav­ing a pur­pose­ful life and find­ing things that you’re in­ter­ested in … I just love mu­sic. It’s been en­cour­ag­ing to know that I still feel like writ­ing songs. You won­der, “What’s go­ing to be the last thing I write down?” But you look at peo­ple like [Leonard] Co­hen and [Bob] Dy­lan and Neil Young who are still out there singing songs – Leonard right up un­til he died. I think he was work­ing the week be­fore. It’s just hav­ing a pur­pose­ful life, just do­ing stuff. This is what I do. MC There have also been rum­blings that you’re writ­ing a novel. JA I’ve been work­ing on it for five years. Every­one laughs at me, but I have en­joyed the process so much. I think the story’s so great. It’s kind of a com­ing-of-age of this young girl on a farm, and her grand­par­ents are rais­ing her. It’s a long sor­did story, but they’re hor­ri­ble peo­ple, and her quest is to find her mom. And the cows talk. We have talk­ing cows. So it’s a lit­tle bit of a fan­tasy thing. MC At the end of the day, what do you hope peo­ple take away from Feed­ing My Mother? JA I hope that peo­ple re­al­ize that they are not alone with mem­ory-loss is­sues. It is a cat­a­strophic dis­ease. There’s a mil­lion dif­fer­ent kinds of de­men­tia, and Alzheimer’s is in that fam­ily. So I hope peo­ple learn to ask for help and not feel so iso­lated with it. That’s what I hope.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.