Jann Arden on Living with Loss

Photo Credit: Alkan Emin

“Mom is gone.” With those words, Canadian superstar Jann Arden let her Instagram followers know that Joan Richards had died. Arden has been open – and often poignant and funny – about her grief in losing her father, Derrel Richards, in 2015, and then her mother. In fact, she took to social media years before her mother’s death to talk about what it was like to watch her father deal with dementia and her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. Her book, Feeding my Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as my Mom Lives with Memory Loss, was published in 2017.

We asked Arden to share her insights into dealing with grief, and what gave her comfort when she needed it most.

Counsellors talk about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) after losing someone we love. How well do those stages reflect what you went through when you lost your dad, and then your mom? 

I wish grief could be written down as a five-word process, or a five-stage process, but for me they couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no rhyme, no reason, no sense to be made of what you go through when you lose someone you love. It’s like being strapped to a roller coaster that you can’t get off. It’s exhausting and frustrating and infuriating.

What gave you solace as you were (and are) working your way through that grief?

Honestly, had it not been for my friends coming to stay with me the first few days, I don’t know how I would’ve managed. They brought food, they brought hugs and they didn’t expect anything from me. I slept a lot but I knew they were just down the hall hanging out in the kitchen. It made all the difference in the world.

What part of grieving did you most struggle with? How did you deal with that?

I think when it comes to Alzheimer’s you have a very long time to say goodbye to the person you’re caring for. So, it’s not like you lose them tragically in a car accident or by a heart attack.

In that sense there are a lot of blessings because you get to say all the things that you want to. I think I will cry about my mom for the rest of my life, maybe when I am taking a walk with the dogs or preparing a meal or reading a book or watching TV. There is no rhyme or reason to when or why or how your body will react to an old memory. You only really grieve, I think, if you’ve have loved something or someone, so having said that, it’s a pretty special emotion.

Were there any surprises for you in terms of how you experienced (and are experiencing) the loss of your parents?

I pretty much knew what I was in for. I knew that going through my parents’ things was going to be difficult. I knew that selling their house would be difficult. I knew that there would be holes in every part of my life. I think you just have to accept that part of human life is going to be really fucking hard and that’s all there is to it.

Do you have words of advice for others?

Cry as much as you want and don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Make sure you get lots of exercise, make sure you don’t drink a lot of alcohol, just look after yourself. I would tell people to use common sense, but as you know, that’s not very common. Eat good food, rest, walk, repeat.

Arden has a new, eponymous comedy series on CTV, in which she plays a fictionalized version of herself, on quest for renewed fame in the wake of a waning career, while also dealing with the obligations and pressures of her real life.