Our Parents as People

In the past 12 hours, I have seen and heard more of Diane Keaton than I had in the past several years combined. Last night I caught her on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and this morning she was on Morning Edition and spent an hour with Diane Rehm.  Of course, you can guess that the impetus for this publicity is her new memoir, Then Again. Celebrity memoirs are not always very interesting or enlightening, and I certainly don’t read them just because they are written by a famous person. But as a personal historian and daughter, what caught my attention about this one is the family history component. Dorothy Hall (yes, Diane Keaton’s real last name is Hall) kept journals all her life, leaving 85 of them behind when she died. Diane knew about the journals, but didn’t read them when her mother was alive, even when Dorothy was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She explains that she didn’t really want to see her mother in that way, as a real person. With bracing honesty Diane admits to being a self-absorbed actress, who loved how completely devoted her mother was to HER. In one of the interviews, Diane even  recalls how her mother mentioned she might like to write a memoir, and reflects on her regret that she ignored what seems in hindsight to be a request for help from her successful, connected daughter.

After her mother died, Diane read all the journals her mother left behind, and came face to face with the image of her mother as an actual person, a woman with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams of her own, many unrealized. Now, three years after her mother’s death, she has mined that treasure trove of family history to pay tribute to her mother with Then Again. Her mother’s words are finally in print, intertwined with her own in a contemplation of family, love and the bond between a mother and daughter.

How lucky is Diane to have the chance to know truly know her mother now, after her death? There is no question that she always loved her mother deeply. Her admission that even in her early 60’s she was still too self-absorbed to see her mother as a person is heartbreaking, but rings so true. In our work we often hear elders say they don’t want to write their story because their children or grandchildren are not interested. We always counter with, “That may be true today, but someday they will wish they had listened.”

Thanks, Annie Hall, for proving our point.

~ Kristi

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