A photographic memory, a decades-long dedication to caring for her mother and a passion for mental health awareness serve as the inspiration for an Orillia woman’s book.
Karen Hilfman has released The Mended Mirror — Reflections on Life: Wholeness in Brokenness. While it has been available for a few months online, it is now in print and will soon be available from Manticore Books in downtown Orillia.
“This is the story of my life in which I reflect on what I learned from my mother about how to see and cultivate wholeness even in the midst of brokenness,” Hilfman explained. “The story weaves together the threads of my thinking and my experiences that are at the root of my life work of creating authentic connection culture — a culture based in healthy life-giving circle principles where we come out from behind our masks and connect deeply.”
The last part of the book’s title, Wholeness in Brokenness, explains what Hilfman saw in her mother over the years. Her mom was never diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (formerly referred to as multiple personality disorder), but there were indeed multiple personalities. The lack of a diagnosis led Hilfman to refer to them as “alter” and “core” personalities.
She had an eye-opening experience in October 2010, when her mom called her and asked her to come over.
“She literally morphed between five personalities sitting in front of me,” she said, adding she discovered her mother had eight alter personalities and one core personality. “She really taught me to see wholeness. When she was in her core personality, she really saw wholeness, too.”
Those personalities were there throughout Hilfman’s life, but she and her family didn’t know exactly what they were. They referred to them as “moods and states.”
That intense encounter in October 2010 was over in 13 minutes — “thirteen minutes that divide my life into two contrasting perspectives: a lifetime of not understanding and an eruption of knowing,” Hilfman wrote in her book.
For 40 years — from her early teens until her mom’s death in October 2011 — Hilfman cared for her, spending an average of two hours a day with her. Her mom often experienced “periods of being extremely suicidal,” she explained.
She was not weak, however.
“As much as my book does tell the story of my mother’s mental health challenges, she was an incredible leader,” Hilfman said.
In the 1970s, she was president of what was then known as the Association for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped. Her work to get wheelchair-accessible washrooms and medical parking spots earned her the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.
“She was really committed to creating a community where everybody was included and the well-being of everyone was considered to be important,” Hilfman said.
That’s the view Hilfman took of her mother’s struggles, too, and she was determined to learn more about the origins of her condition. Hilfman has clear memories of her childhood, going back to when she was about two-and-a-half years old. She put that skill to use to determine the crises that created her mother’s alters.
Five years after her mother’s death, a DNA test added to the intrigue of the family story. Spoiler alert: It determined Hilfman’s sister — one of her three siblings — had a different biological father. That led Hilfman to think two thoughts.
“The first thing I said is, ‘If he’s your dad, he’s my dad,’” she recalled.
She was right. The other two siblings had a different father — the one who raised all four of them.
“The second thing I said is, ‘I don’t think Mom knew.’”
Right again, and that was because of the various personalities.
Hilfman had arranged for an event to take place this Friday at St. Paul’s Centre, where she used to be the minister. The COVID-19 pandemic has led her to postpone it.
The event was to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week and Mother’s Day — more specifically, the 150th anniversary of Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation described as an “appeal to womanhood throughout the world,” now known as the Mother’s Day proclamation, which led to Mother’s Day as we know it.
The event at St. Paul’s was to be more of a performance than a simple reading. It was going to include acting, song and dance, featuring people Hilfman had worked with on musicals when she was at St. Paul’s, as well as her granddaughter playing the role of Hilfman as a young girl.
That event is now scheduled for May 8, 2021.
Hilfman is hoping people will read the book before then, as she feels it is particularly important right now, during the pandemic.
“We’re at a moment where we’re not going to go back to the old norm,” she said. “We need to be rallying together to make sure everybody’s well-being is considered.”
To learn more about the book, visit themendedmirror.com.
Hilfman thanked everyone who worked on the book, including three women who either live or have roots in Orillia. Anitta Hamming painted the image that is on the book cover, while Peggy Goddard was an editor and Pegi Eyers helped with the book’s set-up.