On Her Own Terms: Poems about Memory Loss and Living Life to the Fullest by Carolyn Gammon

If you knew you were dying, how would you choose to go? What if someone you knew was dying?

What if you were simply losing each other by losing your memories? How would that remake you, them and your relationship?

Carolyn Gammon takes us through how it happens for her and her mother, talks about how “our remembered lives disintegrate quiet smouldering edge paper slowly consumed” and how she learns “to speak in maybes”. How she realizes she may not stay a daughter but can stay a warm hand.

Sending Me Home talks of the four a.m. fear of existential dread, shared through the phone. Carolyn attempts to hold the fear at bay while her mother on the other end of the line, banters and resigns herself to it, wishing she was a nearer mother and not a further mother. In the morgue, her mother forgets her husband has passed and despite herself, Carolyn reminds her at once cruelly before realizing she doesn’t want to know.

The author talks about feeling stretched between her new home and Canada, her mother and her son and how she balances it all on her own.

A love poem for your ninetieth year is wonderfully written of one of the most magical childhoods I’ve ever heard of. Love and caring and heartfelt moments of being caught when falling and someone there when called.

The author calls her mother Lazarus when, at the eleventh hour, they take her off morphine and she suddenly recovers from deaths’ door. A new nurse comes in and tears apart the medical plan, noting the amount of drugs was just cushioning her where it wasn’t needed.

The book explores how full of life her mother is despite broken arms and a gashed head, following a little plastic biker toy down the halls in the hospital, tricking a visiting pastor with ventriloquism and writing letters to her father pretending she’s gone travelling. There’s talk of Gammon jokes and the memories of the Grand Lake cottage, Pauline and Kay and Betty, Ollie Sharpe on respite, bike rides and visits on the Green, reciting Longfellow until it’s time to go because it’s always time to go in a nursing home.

See also  Hunger Moon: Poems by Deborah Banks

It is not easy learning how to die. Carolyn wishes she could give a lecture on dementia and how it isn’t one or the other, but both and even if her mother doesn’t remember her, Carolyn remembers.

Life is so beautiful on a bed under a blanket. Rest in peace, Frances Firth Gammon, founding member of the Fiddlehead.

This is a heady treasure of a book- it’ll leave your heart heavy, a lump in your through and silver at the corners of your eyes.


About the Author

Carolyn Gammon has been widely anthologized across Canada, the United States and Europe, and she is the author of Lesbians Ignited (Gynergy/Ragweed, 1992), Johanna Krause Twice Persecuted: Surviving in Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007) and The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger (WLU Press, 2014). She was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her parents, Frances (Firth) Gammon and Donald Gammon co-founded the Fiddlehead magazine at the University of New Brunswick. Carolyn Gammon lives in Berlin, Germany.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harbour Publishing (Sept. 25 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 144 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550179659
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550179651

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.

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