Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Gladys has finally agreed that her collection of reading materials has grown to the point of being a safety hazard. With newspapers piled up on the floor, in doorways, and on the stairs, there is a significant risk of tripping and falling. Gladys agrees that she does not want to suffer a fall, and she agrees that unobstructed walkways are an important part of reducing her risk of falling.
The hard part is agreeing on how to solve the problem. Marie would be quite content to throw everything out; Gladys wants to keep every book, magazine and newspaper. Marie points out that Gladys hasn’t read an academic journal in years, and she suggests recycling all the outdated newspapers and magazines to make room for fresh news. Every time, Gladys erupts in an emotional outburst. She ends up crying and saying that Marie doesn’t understand her, that she’s being insensitive, and if she’s going to be pushy and controlling then she can just leave!
Every time Marie wonders how the conversation spiralled out of control so quickly. All she did was suggest filling the recycling bin!
The part Marie is missing is how her mother views the newspapers and magazines. Marie sees outdated information that no longer qualifies as ‘news,’ and thus it’s worthy of being discarded. Her mother sees so much more.
Gladys sees her identity. She has always been grateful for the education she received. It was somewhat unusual for a woman to have attained her level of education in her era, and she has never taken it for granted. She strongly believed that reading was the way to continually expand her knowledge—a value that she passed along to Marie and her siblings. Because of this deeply-held value for knowledge, Gladys feels personally responsible for the books and academic journals that come into her possession. Where she once perceived herself as stewardess of only her favourite books, she now extends that sense of responsibility and protection to periodicals, magazines, and even newspapers.
Reading lighter material—such as magazines and newspapers—started largely after her husband passed away. Her magazine collection represents part of her grief journey. In some cases, she can remember the day she received that particular magazine and how she was feeling. She knows which magazine arrived in the mailbox on the same day as her husband’s death certificate. To throw out that magazine feels like throwing out a piece of her memory and connection to her deceased husband.
Every unread newspaper that is discarded is an affront to her personal identity. Every missing issue of a magazine series disregards her values. Gladys views herself as being well-read, a woman who keeps up with the times, who knows current events and politics and can carry on an informed conversation on any topic of the day. Since she was always an avid reader, she devoured books and magazines as her source of current events. Discarding something she hasn’t yet read feels like a personal failure. She cannot just toss an unread newspaper in a recycling bin; it feels tantamount to giving up on part of her identity.
Each individual magazine, periodical and newspaper represents part of how Gladys defines herself. Because she places such importance on each publication, the emotional stakes are very high for her. Her strong reaction to Marie’s suggestion makes sense in light of how emotionally connected she is to each item.
If Marie can recognize the emotional attachment Gladys has to her books, magazines and newspapers, it may make it easier to empathize with the effort it takes her mother to assess each item. She is processing emotional memories, and evaluating her own identity each time she picks up a magazine and decides where to place it next.
What Gladys needs most from Marie is exceptional patience and support as she navigates the emotional process of making her home safe. She will also benefit from Marie’s help with organization and categorization outlined in our next blog.
Lissette Mairena Wong
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