The seed for writing Bloodroot was sown the fall before my mother’s death in May. I had driven down from Saskatoon to visit her in Fort Dodge, Iowa at the care facility she lived in. This was the area in which she had lived her entire life. One afternoon while having a rest on her bed, I sat beside her and we chatted. Suddenly she blurted out:
“I have another daughter besides you!”
Momentarily taken aback, I realized this was one of Mom’s dementia narratives. Over the years, I had learned to follow her lead with these stories rather than correct her; cut her off. Although this absurd claim seriously tempted me to correct her, I didn’t.
The subsequent conversation that unfolded astonished me [see Bloodroot excerpt below]. It wasn’t until many months after her death that the conversation returned so intact and with such power that I had to write it down. This was the seed for writing a memoir that I had had no intention of writing.
I came so close to dismissing the gift encoded in her dementia story. Ever since this experience, I have stayed on the alert for other stories that suddenly offer themselves to writers I am working with, or to me, that strike out of the blue.
Excerpt from Bloodroot, pages 58 – 61
Mom was lying on her nursing home bed for a little rest while I sat in the chair beside her. This was to be her last October – the Fall preceding her fall off the doctor’s examining table. We were having one of those gentle, murmuring conversations as if side-by-side, enveloped by blankets and the tender dark. Suddenly there was urgency in her voice.”I have another daughter besides you.”
“Another daughter? ”
“What’s her name?”
“I can’t remember…”
By now I had learned to stay on the course of Mom’s relationship to truth. Her strategies were the same as always, but her intention was different now: more revelatory, less concealing. Yet this one threw me. I did a double-check.
“Is it Betsy?”
“No, no: that’s you.”
“So you just can’t remember her name?”
“No. It’s a simple name…”
“When was she born?”
Before you. She wasn’t really mine. I didn’t have her. She’d been abused and I took her in. Adopted her.”
“How old was she?”
“Oh, I can’t remember exactly. She was young.”
“How long was she there before I was born”
“Oh… a few years. I wish you could meet her.”
“What’s she like?”
“Well, she was pretty wild when she was young. I had quite a time with her until she settled down. She has a good record now.”
“Where does she live?”
“Not too far away, but she only visits me once a year. I wish she would come now.”
“I get so lonely for her sometimes. She’s such a lovely girl. You’d really like each other I wish you could meet her. She keeps to herself.”
“I’d like to meet her.”
“She never told us much about her life. I feel sorry about that now. I’d like to know more…”
Then my mom does something I rarely saw her do. She cries. A delicate crying of inconsolable regret.
“I’d like to have known more…”
I was abused. I never told my mother.
My Mom was abused. She never told me.
Never knew I knew.
But my mother who had “another daughter” knew.
Truth cut in half – reveals its self.
There was no other daughter.
By splitting me into two, Mom’s subconscious ingeniously found a way to acknowledge her loss: to reunite us again.