When The Body Remembers

I’ve just returned home from a too-short visit with my parents because my mother was hospitalized with a medical crisis, a situation that majorly impacts cognitive function in someone struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.  While the journey for my Mom and for our family is far too personal to write about at this time, (a private journey that will become a huge part of our collective experience over these next several years) it is possible to write about some of the nuances or observations within that journey, one being how the body sometimes remembers.

I read a beautiful blog post by a writer who describes this very thing as it relates to childhood memory and the impact of the experiences that we give to our children for later snapshots of a past that otherwise seems vague or non-existent.  My father thinks that sometimes I embellish my childhood memories, but I think that to some degree, he was just too darn busy trying to provide, to realize the impact certain moments had for me.

I have a whole series of snapshots from my childhood, both positive and negative.  It’s interesting that most of these snapshots are sustained because of what my body remembers…the light, the sounds, the tactile sense of things.  I remember clearly digging clams…the touch of the cool sand…the texture pushing hard under my finger nails…the smell of salt water…the wind in my hair…my mother’s laughter…the spraying holes….the prize, again and again, of a beautiful white object that fit perfectly in my hand.

What I noticed about my Mom this week, even with diminished memory and increased confusion, even when she was apparently agitated and upset, she took pause as her body remembered.

How many times does a mother stop to wipe circles on her dining table, dust her bedside table, clean her kitchen counter?  Countless times…and that is a memory that the body holds.  As my mother places her hand on her meal tray…she takes pause and her body remembers and draws circles with a paper napkin.  Her body continues the work of her life.  It is memory that remains.

My mother also remembers how to fold.  And when I see the gestures and fluid movements of my mother’s hands as she folds the fabrics near her…her gown, the curtains, her bedsheets…it is as though I am watching her fold up the items in the laundry baskets of yesteryear…the family watching Hockey Night in Canada…the smell of popcorn…and the busy hands of my mother.  When I see Mom’s body remember…my body remembers.  The nostalgia of it is a blessing.  The folding unites us in our common narrative.

P1100410 P1100413

Sharing the Gift of a Poem 12/12/2012

My friend sent me a poem yesterday.  I read it before I went to bed and decided that this would be something special to share in the morning…the twelfth month, the twelfth day of 2012.  It brought to mind the series of photographs I took two summers ago, a series titled, My Mother’s Hands.

It also reminded me of music, for some reason…and about recognizing a couple of musicians who have recently passed away, Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shanker.  I am in deep gratitude for the music that they created.  God gave us hands to create.  God gave us hands to bless the world.  May your hands do good for others today.

I brought Prince Edward Island sand back to my mother in Ontario…this is the photograph that I took that day.

Mom's Hands PEI

In Praise of Hands

by Stuart Kestenbaum

It’s not just the people
who live in the city

who’ve lost the thread
that ties them to the woven

world of stones and earth,
fields alive with pollen and wings.

Who among us understands
how oceans rise and fall,

currents swirling around the planet
with messages in bottles

floating on the water.
When the tide is out

we can go to the shore
dig clay with our bare hands

and make something beautiful from it,
a vessel with thin walls

that holds a canyon.
In both hands, like an offering,

we can hold the memory
of eroded stones and earth,

eons contained in this empty bowl.
We can fill it with water

that reflects the sky that has
witnessed everything since

time began, we can drink and be blessed,
clouds gathering over us.

“In Praise of Hands” by Stuart Kestenbaum, from Prayers & Run-on Sentences


My Mother’s Hands Have Made…

Advent…and I think of my mother and father every day.  This morning, before setting out on my hill-walk with Max, I have uploaded just a few photos of things that my mother has done with her hands over the years.  I have some other items to share…her sewing and her crafts, but this is a beginning.  My mother’s hands have been busy…and the fruits of her labour have been beautiful, enriching all of our lives.  Little did she know as she made these things, that her children would be treasuring them always.  As I lit my first purple advent candle this Sunday, I thought of Mom, Dad and my sister and brothers.  I love you, dear family.

My Mother's Letters 1970s

 My mother wrote me beautiful descriptive letters.  In this letter, dated September of 1974, she described the changes in the Catholic church, St. Patricks, in Sherbrooke, Quebec.  She described my little sister as she was the flower girl for my auntie’s wedding.  Mom had a way of bringing me close to her heart, even though I was at such a distance.


 Mom described how she was preparing for yet another bazaar for her church…something that she did each and every year right about this time.  She ‘worked herself to the bone’, she would say…and she did.  Now days, surprisingly enough, I almost feel that her urgency was coming from a place deep within her.  I didn’t know that at the time.

Cross Stitch Reflections

 Mom’s stitches were so even, so careful.  She did several cross stitch pieces…it was a phase she went through.  So many years ago, when we were very young, she did very tiny petit points.  I marvelled at her patience.

Loom Weaving

 It broke my mother and father’s hearts when Mom had to let go of her weaving loom.  It represented better times…it represented Mom’s joy of weaving…of good health.  Mom’s weaving was very special to her.  I still marvel that she could figure out how to set the warp strands.


 Mom was ALWAYS knitting.  She knit each member of the family an irish knit sweater, toques, scarves and winter hats of every variety!  Some of her patterns for hats were so bizarre that I used to really wonder about them! I remember one that was like a latticed pumpkin pie and another, a vertically striped stocking hat…just where did she get these ideas?  I did not appreciate or treasure these objects enough and would give anything to still own one of them so that I could give them to my daughters.

By My Mother's Hands

 This is a profoundly complicated pattern…but something that my mother gifted to me.  I will treasure it always!

Sleeve Detail

 While most were going to the wicker store to purchase their baskets, my mother was weaving her own.  She learned several different techniques and then work shopped and taught others.  While Mom and Dad lived in Brampton, Ontario, I remember visiting and having Mom teach me how to prepare, soak and weave in this manner.

Authentic Weaving By My Mother's Hands

 This was Mom and Dad’s Easter gift to me…


 Corn husk dolls were something that my mother created, with a flourish.  These little ladies, as well as many other folk art pieces filled her home and provided generous gifts for family and friends.  While there are many other hand-crafted items that Mom created, these photos capture a wee taste of my mother’s abilities.  I love and cherish my mother’s hands!

Corn Husk Doll

My Mother’s Hands: August 23, 2011

Max and Gramma shared some moments and quite frankly I couldn’t choose which one of these, so I’m including a few.  There is such a tender exchange between my mother and babies and my mother and dogs.  Tears well up in me when I think of those moments.

Soft Light and Tender Touch


Turning Toward Gramma




I Will Carry Your Love With Me

My Mother’s Hands: August 21, 2011

It saddens me that I wasn’t able to bring my mother back to Prince Edward Island.  Tonight I shared a small bit of PEI sand with her though…it still felt cool to both of us and  it still smelled remotely of the ocean.  I was touched by the experience.  I love my Mom so much.

Beach Sand