Bill Richardson was 23 when he left Winnipeg for Vancouver and 56 when the well-known writer and broadcaster reversed the journey, returning to his birthplace to help look after his father, Stan.
That’s pretty much how Alzlive introduced The Stan Chronicles on March 12, 2014. Stan died in Winnipeg on June 26, but prior to that Bill Richardson wrote both movingly and entertainingly about Stan — about his dementia, about the long-term care-facility Stan was in, and about how Bill, as a caregiver and a son, coped with both.
There were only two “Stan Chronicles” posted on Alzlive before Stan’s death at eighty-eight. But it always feels to me as if there were more. The Stan Chronicles seemed as if they came from a wealth of material. And indeed, in Bill Richardson’s hands, they did. A popular broadcaster, and for many years a CBC radio host, Richardson is no-less well-known in Canada as a writer. And it was as a writer that he made his mark at Alzlive.
Richardson is sad and he is funny, sometimes in the same sentence. But what I like more than anything about The Stan Chronicles is this: they are never sentimental.
Anyone who has known real sadness knows what an impostor sentimentality is. Unlike actual grief, sentimentality doesn’t hurt. Quite the contrary, it’s something people enjoy. That’s why advertisers, political parties, screenwriters, singers, romantic novelists and sports broadcasters use it so much. It’s a way for us to feel weepy for a bit – which, as emotions go, is a long way from feeling a devastating loss. A devastating, seemingly unbearable loss is the kind of tragedy that the Canadian songwriter Ruth Lowe was thinking about when, in 1940, she wrote the classic jazz tune, “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Nobody enjoys feeling that sad.
You could say that sentimentality and caregiving are opposites, and while the greeting card and advertising industry might object, I don’t think anyone who is actually receiving care would disagree. Next to incompetence, sentimentality is the last thing anyone in need wants – at least not in the real world. And the real world was the one Bill Richardson wrote about.
Caregiving has many personalities. It can be loving, kind, tough, frustrating, funny, pragmatic, and tedious. But the one thing that can always be said about good caregiving – and what makes it truly heroic — is that it is never self-centred. Whereas sentimentality always is.
About the author