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Love in Extremes

<em>The Long Hello</em> by Cathie Borrie.

The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me by Cathie Borrie is a compassionate telling of the love that exists in extreme conditions. Described by Maya Angelou as a “Joy!”, the book is a celebration of the love between a mother and her daughter.

Intimate and beautifully rendered, Borrie presents a fast paced narrative stylized by short chapters of dialogue between the two women, deftly woven with longer sections about widely understood experiences: divorce, alcoholism, and the death of a child. In this case, the violent death of Borrie’s brother Hugh at age 13. These life experiences support the author’s understanding of her relationship with her mother and what she comes to recognize and celebrate as the surfacing of an emerging self. The book is also an acknowledgement of the ache in all of us for those who are absent, but especially those who have come to accept the disappearance of their mothers below the veil of dementia.

“I had a good relationship with my mother to begin with,” says Borrie. “And through her journey I did not become her parent. That kind of role reversal scenario is often used to label what occurs. That’s not what happened to us. Instead, I became my mother’s friend: focused and present.”

Borrie’s story is about the type of love that comes from being responsible and doing the right thing. “There are people who don’t understand the point of visiting someone one with dementia. The truth is though, the vulnerability they feel when they say that is really their own,” says the author. “My mother had an enduring spirit that prevailed. Even in those moments when she didn’t recognize me. Her gift to me was her profound sharing.”

The Long Hello is a deeply experiential and heartfelt offering of a world made of music and togetherness, memory and touch, tenacity and intimacy. “Writing the book was a bit like living in a song: difficult and beautiful,” admits Borrie. “But you have to tell the truth in a memoir.” And it is truthful about the kind of demanding work involved in the honouring and care of a parent with dementia, but ultimately it is about the growing connection between them.