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The Measure of a Woman

As regular readers will know from Monday’s Author Note, my mother, Mary Louise Barron (Morry) would have celebrated her 85th birthday on September 8, so it’s perhaps not all that surprising that I’ve been thinking of her even more than usual the past few days. Truth be told, I’ve indulged in much reminiscing, and told more than a few stories, mostly about her sewing, her fashion sense, her ability to turn an old garment into an entirely new one, and her complete inability to see how amazing she looked well into her 70s.

One story I’ve rarely told centres around her words to me after she read the first draft of Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift… 

Let me start by stating the obvious. One of the very real possibilities memoir writers face is that they will offend a loved one who was part of the story. Indeed, the potential damage to treasured relationships is one of the things that can stop the words from ever appearing on paper.

The last thing I wanted to do with a book about my father was to hurt my mother, or anger her in any way. But I knew that there were sections that would potentially do just that, and I feared what the impact on our relationship might be.

I was so concerned she would be upset that after I packaged the 8 ½” x 11” pages into a manuscript box and put them in the courier, I took my own copy and marked with a yellow sticky note every paragraph that I thought might upset her. Then I waited for the telephone to ring.

She read the pages start to finish without break. I stood leaning against the kitchen counter in my home in Alberta, gaze directed towards the window that looked out onto our deck and the farmer’s field beyond as I answered the phone, manuscript with sticky notes on the counter beside me. I could hear the tears in her eyes… they were in her voice as well.

“I was really like that, wasn’t I?” she asked.

“Yes,” was my quiet reply.

“Don’t change a word,” she said immediately. “Not a single word. People need to know. People need to know that’s what Alzheimer’s does to the loved ones. People need to know…”

Despite being quite outgoing, my mother was in many ways an intensely private person. I had shared the changes in her as I had witnessed them –– talked of depression and anger and many other things. I had relayed some of the most intimate and heartbreaking moments of my father’s later years, moments that had caused all of us incredible anguish. But despite the pain she felt reading the manuscript, despite her personal feelings, she didn’t ask for any changes… not a single word.

My mother was a giving woman, strong and courageous. Her role in my father’s story was above all else, one of intense devotion and love, but she suffered deeply and the experience ravaged her and left scars that never healed.

That she never once asked me to hide that suffering and those scars because she believed the information could help others says everything that needs to be said. About the measure of an extraordinary woman… my mother.