Parent-child relationships are complex and never more so than when the roles become reversed.
Annie Ernaux presents the sparse truth in I Remain in Darkness.
The thoughts she wrote down after visits to her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s in an old person’s home, are presented without self-indulgence, from her mother’s last written realisation that something is wrong, the title of the book, to the unknowing final kiss.
Harsh memories are mixed in with tender new moments. In earlier times, her mother was a no-nonsenes, sometimes critical, parent and shopkeeper, her sister’s death left her with awkward feelings that was the second-best sister. This past contrasts with her mother proudly presenting her to fellow patients as ‘my daughter’, planting a gentle kiss on her daughter’s hair as she leans to check the wheelchair her mother is strapped into, which reminds her of own child’s pushchair.
I Remain in Darkness, Annie Ernaux
Old age can be devastating and Ernaux does not baulk at describing bodily functions reverting to a babylike lack of control, the smells of urine and faeces, the slack jaw that can’t always keep the food in and the lack of shame when nakedness is exposed.
This decline is documented with honesty. Ernaux at least once says she hates her mother, but there is always the feeling that this was ‘my mother’ running through her thoughts.
The death of a parent causes visceral grief even when the relationship hasn’t always been close. I don’t like to think of causing that pain for my own children.