All Things Consoled

This memoir by Elizabeth Hay is about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver.

Elizabeth Hay

Jean and Gordon Hay were a formidable pair. She was an artist and superlatively frugal; he was a proud and well-mannered schoolteacher with a temper that could be explosive. Elizabeth, their oldest daughter, was said to be a difficult and selfish child. Elizabeth always suspected she would end up caring for her parents in their final years, a way of making up for the sins of her childhood, proving herself to be a good daughter after all. But as her parents, who had been ferociously independent people, became increasingly dependent on her, their lives changed utterly and so did hers. Philip Roth once said, "Old age is a massacre." All Things Consoled takes you inside the massacre.

In this startlingly beautiful memoir, with brutal candour and irresistible wit, Elizabeth Hay offers insight into the exquisite agony of a family's dynamics — sibling rivalries, miscommunications that spur decades of resentment all matched by true and genuine love and devotion — and reaches a deep understanding of the most unforgettable characters she will ever know, the vivid giants who were her parents. (From McClelland & Stewart)

Elizabeth Hay's prose elevates this ordinary rite of passage — the death of one's parents — to something rare and poetic.- 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

All Things Consoled won the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and is on the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize shortlist.

Why Elizabeth Hay wrote about her family

"There was a challenge in dealing with some of the material that gave me a feeling of congestion in my heart. Yet, I knew that if I had that feeling in my heart, then the material was real. Often when I write fiction, the big challenge is believing in what I'm writing because it doesn't seem real and it doesn't seem urgent. I wonder, 'What's the point of this?' But with this memoir I didn't ever wonder, 'What's the point?' Once you've written a scene that actually seems to work and that flows out of that foggy heart, that's really rewarding.

I'm very glad that I brought my parents to the fore and into the light. They were interesting people.- Elizabeth Hay

"I have a few worries about the reaction of members of my family, but on the whole I feel more confident and solid about this book than I ever felt about any of my novels. I'm very glad I wrote it. I'm very glad that I brought my parents to the fore and into the light. They were interesting people. If you read the whole book, you appreciate how interesting they were."

Read more in Elizabeth Hay's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

My mother came home the next day. The residence doctor dropped by in the afternoon, sturdy, energetic, reassuring. We had learned he was from Aberdeen, a fact that only endeared him further to my parents, for the Hays traced their origins back to the same part of Scotland. My mother greeted him cheerfully, and he said, "So you've come back."

She had. She had come back to us.

Then once again, around the middle of March, she lost her words and twenty-four hours later showed no signs of recovering them. "I'm thinking — throne — thinking — th." Starting on a word with an opening sound like "th," she could not escape it, any more than a month earlier she had been able to escape "window — whether."

After I got her lying down, I went into the living room to talk to Dad, who was staring out one of the windows that overlooked the road and the canal beyond. Without turning, he said, "I don't think she's suffering, she's just lost." He choked up, as he did so very easily, before going on. "We just have to hope, or maybe hope is the wrong word. If she doesn't make it, maybe it's for the best."

From All Things Consoled by Elizabeth Hay ©2018. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Interviews with Elizabeth Hay

More about All Things Consoled from CBC Radio

Other books by Elizabeth Hay