🕔Dec 03, 2008

Quite suddenly, on a Sunday, my mother forgot who I was. One moment we were talking about familiar things, and the next it seemed that she was speaking to a stranger. She smiled and asked, with curiosity, “Did your parents have any other children?”
I tried to explain who I was, but she didn’t understand. She smiled again and asked about my father, as though she’d never met him, as though fifty-five years had vanished from her mind.
Her memory had been failing for a long time. But that weekend was the start of something worse, as though all the foundations of her life crumbled away beneath her. Two weeks later she was in hospital, and there she is now, spending most of the day asleep.
In the middle of this, as my mother was failing, I started reading Nancy Robertson’s book, Searching for the April Moon. It’s a collection of essays that begins with her father dying in a nursing home, and ends with the carving of names on her mother’s tombstone. It’s such a heartfelt journey through aging and death that I couldn’t bear at first to read more than a few pages at a time. But it’s told so beautifully that it was impossible not to keep reading. And soon the book became a comfort, because it’s not only an account of the journey but a map as well. It made me see what still lies ahead, and it made me less fearful to carry on.
I read the book on the ferry as I traveled to the hospital from my home on Gabriola Island. I read it with sunglasses on, so that no one would see I was crying.
But the personal essays in Searching for the April Moon are not sad so much as poignant. For every sentence that broke my heart there was another – or two – that made me smile, or even laugh on a day when I didn’t think laughing was possible.
The stories are full of love of family, and love of life. They show that there’s humor in aging, no matter how terrible it is, and that sadness is fleeting. They prove that no one is really alone when life is at its loneliest.
Searching for the April Moon is full of nice touches. In the middle is a collection of photographs, like a family album, showing people that the reader by now feels that he knows. On the first page of each essay is a picture of a letter and its envelope, along with a small personal object: a thimble; a snapshot; a Mexican whistle.
In the title story, Nancy goes out in the rain of Prince Rupert to look for the full moon of April. She has heard someone on the radio say that the April moon is ten times closer to Earth than usual, so she stands on her porch in a rainstorm, searching for something that she can’t possibly find.
Like all the stories, it shifts through time and place as Nancy explores her memories and circumstances. At the end it returns to the April moon with a year gone by, with the sense that our lives go on with the same inexorable patterns as objects in the sky.
The most important things in life are found without the need for searching.