All Things Consoled is a poignant book. I instinctively knew I wanted to use the word poignant to describe All Things Consoled but I had to look up the definition to understand exactly why. Poignant means ‘evoking a sense of sadness or regret’ and that is what Elizabeth Hay’s beautifully written memoir about caring for her aging parents will do if you have parents who have died or who are nearing the end of life. All Things Consoled may in fact be too poignant to read. Sections fairly took my breath away – like the long list of things that prompt Elizabeth to think about her mother after her death. I could easily write such a list too. I cry just thinking about it.
Elizabeth voices regrets as well about her relationship with her parents. One in particular struck so close to home I had to close the book and leave it for twenty-four hours. Be prepared to take this book personally. Some of the nerves it touched for me are too private to share here but one did make me chuckle and gave me a greater understanding of some incidents from my own teenage years.
In a chapter called The Legs Elizabeth writes about how she shaved her legs at age thirteen when her parents had told her she needed to wait till she was sixteen to do so. Her mom and dad ended up having a serious private talk with her about her rebellion.
I remember similar serious discussions with my parents about being allowed to buy panty hose and wear lipstick and stop after school at a local restaurant with the other kids for fries with gravy and a Coke. On reflection Elizabeth realizes her parents were just scared about her growing up too fast, scared that if she broke one rule they had set out for her she might break others and that eventually her rebelliousness might lead her to become estranged from them. Since I was the oldest child in the family my parents no doubt harboured similar concerns about my rather innocuous signs of rebellion.
The word poignant has its roots in an old French word that literally translated means to ‘prick’. All Things Consoled pricked my conscience, my memory and my heart.