Why Marcia Gay Harden refused to surrender to the power of Alzheimer’s

Marcia Gay Harden has won an Oscar and a Tony, but this year the actress is showcasing her bona fides as a writer.

On Tuesday, Harden (Pollack, Code Black) published Seasons of My Mother, a lyrical memoir recounting her intimate, profound relationship with her mother. The book is assembled non-chronologically, and follows their adventures around the world: as they grow closer, learn from one another, and develop a dynamic that goes from parent-child to close friends. Harden writes with grit and insight, painting an authentic portrait of their dynamic. And she doesn’t shy away from the most painful element of the story, either: the fact that her mother was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Seasons is framed around flower-arranging and the art of Ikebana, a choice that builds in literary depth as the book rolls along. It’s also an activity that binds Harden and her mother, and that was always there, if only in the background, for their relationship’s most pivotal moments.

Just before Seasons‘ publication, Harden spoke to EW about the book’s genesis and evolution, her desire to tackle her mother’s diagnosis unflinchingly, and why the writing process has changed her. Read on below, and purchase your copy here.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The decision to write this memoir, I imagine, was not made overnight. What made you decide to write this?MARCIA GAY HARDEN: It was initially going to be a different project. In the beginning, I talk about how mom and I — how she wanted to do a traveling flower show, going into people’s gardens and arranging things as a sort of HGTV-type show. We were going to do a calendar book of flowers — “What you arrange in January; what you arrange in February” — to market along with the show. Life got in the way. I didn’t pick up the idea again until maybe six or seven years later, at which point mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The process of picking up that book already would not have the collaboration that we would’ve had previously.

A while later, my neighbor, this old writer named Alvin Sargent [Paper Moon, Ordinary People], had just lost his wife. He’d just lost his wife and I was just going through a divorce, so he recognized me on the street and we became fast and furious friends. He said to me, “You should write it” after I told him about the book. I said I was; he told me to show him. I showed him two sentences, which were of the January chapter — in January, my mother always liked to arrange with a clean mind — and he said … “So you’re a writer.”

High was, for me, a huge affirmation. I’m not a writer; I didn’t study it in school. But I’m an actor. I’m a storyteller. So I started writing, still thinking I was doing a how-to book, and then some agents saw it and said, “Really, what’s happening here is the narrative is so important. Can you keep working with the narrative?” It was very scary to me, because I really hadn’t intended to write a book about my mother. I’d intended that we would do a book together about flowers. [Laughs] But the narrative started coming; it turned into a memoir, and it would come chapter by chapter. I went to the past, the present, and would have no regard for time. I just told the stories as they came. It was a great experience, but not easy — very, very personal.

The flowers make for such a powerful motif for the story you’re telling. As you were told to push in terms of the narrative, how did you think about the flowers and Ikebana, narratively? How they informed the story?I felt like I still had to follow that [calendar] structure. If you look closely at each chapter … I tried to find a memory from each. I simply didn’t place it chronologically; I just placed it whenever, and then I would let the chapter go wherever it went. In February, I’d say on Valentine’s Day, dad always gave mom beautiful red roses — breaking from the tradition of yellow. For Christmas, I went back to the motif of the reef, and how Forsythia was so important. I tried to think of a flower that would be exemplary for each month, and then find a memory — a story — around that. Sometimes, like when my mom came to visit for me giving birth to [my daughter] Eulala, it wasn’t a specific flower. It was the fact that she was the one to teach Ikebana, and then all the little lessons she taught me in the grocery store while we were getting flowers.

I tried to weave what flower would be appropriate for a certain month, and then weave a memory with that. Then that opened doors: it was like a starting point for each chapter.

Did approaching your relationship with your mother in this way cause you to remember things differently? Did it change or flesh out your memories?Yeah, it did. Memories are so ephemeral on some level. In how I write this book, I have mom flying outside of airplanes and embracing the moon and doing things that aren’t necessarily literal … Sometimes I’d go back and look at pictures and would go, “Oh, that’s what this looked like,” and would be able to write about it … It actually made my memories stronger. I did research as well to make sure my memory was based in some fact. Sometimes I got things wrong. Even now I look back and I go, “You know what, actually our plane touched down in Hawaii before we went on to Japan.” But it doesn’t matter. It’s the arc of a journey that my mom was taking. If the plane touched down and then back up, who cares? Not that facts are inconvenient — facts are important — but it’s not a biography. It’s a memoir.

Can you describe the feeling of revisiting these memories, given the context of your mother’s Alzheimer’s?When I first started this, I was so angry that my mother had lost the ability to do all of the things that she loved to do. I was so angry that she was sitting in a wheelchair, starting to forget. That’s what made me first say, I don’t want this to be what we remember her for — Alzheimer’s. I just had that feeling of: I can’t surrender to the power of this disease to define a person. That’s what made me start the book. The painful memory is much what drove me, to repurpose that pain, and it’s much what drove me to do something about it. The fact of her sitting not blankly, but going in and out — we were still discovering what Alzheimer’s was. That’s what drove me to the book.

There’s one chapter where you recount, in painfully routine detail, your mother not being able to remember which dress to wear, repeatedly putting on the wrong clothing and getting more and more ;s a very painful memory. And what else would it be? You know something’s wrong, and if everything the doctors are saying is true about it, there’s not much we can do about it … My mom is now in a wheelchair, and who knows why? Did her body forget how to walk? I don’t know exactly why she’s in a wheelchair. She’s still the same beautiful person. But at that time, when she was first beginning to show symptoms, each one was like a lower note in a musical scale. It’s scary. That’s what I remember that dress moment as.

Gathering with my family, my brothers and sisters, and trying to understand what was going — what our response would be — were all painful memories to revisit. And there are so many families going through the same thing. It doesn’t just affect the patient; it affects huge communities of people: the families, the caregivers. In terms of writing about it, most of the book is not about Alzheimer’s — it’s about a mother-daughter relationship, us growing and traveling together and learning to see each other as people, rather than the labels of “mother” and “daughter.” That’s the beauty of her. Our mothers give us these life lessons in ways that we don’t even recognize in the moment that they’re being given … But of course Alzheimer’s is there — I tell you in the beginning [of the book], that’s what’s going to happen. You know we’re going there. By knowing it’s happening in the beginning, it makes the loss of her and her gifts more tangible.

Did writing this change you? Make you look back on things differently? Even now, since you’ve finished and are now talking about ;s a strange feeling, releasing babies into the world, isn’t it — things that you cherish? It’s constantly changing me. What I’m telling myself is to hold onto it — to hold onto the fact of it … What’s changing in me is to help be a voice for the Alzheimer’s world, and that’s really what the mission is: raise awareness and help find a cure for this heinous disease. That’s the goal.

And then on this other level, I have people in my social media saying, like, “I just took an Ikebana class — thank you so much for introducing this to me!” A few of my friends who have read it are now giving me the feedback that they understand Ikebana in a whole new light, and they’re interested in this craft. I think that would make my mother so incredibly proud, as a result of what’s happened with the book. So for me, it’s a little scary. It’s always a little scary releasing a baby and then talking about it. I’m being asked, “What is it? What is this book?” I can’t go, “It’s a mystery thriller!” [Laughs] This is a mother-daughter journey. That’s the best way I can put it.

Marcia Gay Harden “The Seasons of My Mother” Book Signing in May

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Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar winning actress, will be sigining copies of “The Seasons of My Mother” in OH and CA during May.

5/5/18 7:00 PMJoseph-Beth BooksellersMadison Road.Cincinnati, OH.

Marcia Gay Harden is an actress of the stage, screen, and television. She is also an author, an advocate for Alzheimer’s research, a gardener, and a potter. She lives in Los Angeles and New York with her three children, two cats, and a dog. The fish stays in LA. Learn more from and follow her on Twitter @MGH_8.

In this lyrical and deeply moving memoir, one of America’s most revered actresses weaves stories of her adventures and travels with her mother, while reflecting on the beautiful spirit that persists even in the face of her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Marcia Gay Harden knew at a young age that her life would be anything but ordinary. One of five lively children born to two Texas natives—Beverly, a proper Dallas lady, and Thad, a young naval officer—she always had a knack for storytelling, role-playing, and adventure. As a military family, the Hardens moved often, and their travels eventually took them to Yokohama, off the coast of Japan, during the Vietnam War era. It was here that Beverly, amid the many challenges of raising her family abroad, found her own self-expression in ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging.

Using the philosophy of ikebana as her starting point, Marcia Gay Harden intertwines the seasons of her mother’s life with her own journey from precocious young girl to budding artist in New York City to Academy Award-winning actress. With a razor-sharp wit, as well as the kind of emotional honesty that has made her performances resonate with audiences worldwide, Marcia captures the joys and losses of life even as her precious mother gracefully strives to maintain her identity while coming to grips with Alzheimer’s disease.

Powerful and incredibly stirring,  illustrates the unforgettable vulnerability and beauty of motherhood, as Marcia does what Beverly can no longer do: she remembers.

 Marcia Gay Harden “The Seasons of My Mother” Book Signing in May

Marcia Gay Harden

Immediately recognisable to American audiences, actress Marcia Gay Harden is known for a number of popular roles in films such as Miller’s Crossing, directed by the legendary Coen Brothers, as well the ambitious artist of the influential artist, Pollock. Next to featuring in the 50 Shades of Gray TV adaptation, she won an Academy Award for her role opposite Tommy Lee Jones in surprise hit film Space Cowboy.

Harden has also been nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards and taken on notable television roles include Dr Leanne Rorish in CBS’s popular medical drama Code Black and Rebecca Halliday in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Harden graduated from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University, and has been impressing audiences ever since: next to her award-winning film work, she has also found success as a stage actress. Her illustrious resume includes starring roles in The Skin of Our Teeth in Chicago and in the Off-Broadway play The Years in 1993. Harden has picked up Tony nominations for her work in Angels in America and won plenty of hearts with films roles in the likes of Meet Joe Black opposite Brad Pitt.

A versatile actress who can take on a range of roles, and always shines on stage, screen and TV, Marcia Gay Harden remains one of the most assured and bankable stars in the industry.

Marcia Gay Harden

About The Book

In this lyrical and deeply moving memoir, one of America’s most revered actresses weaves stories of her adventures and travels with her mother, while reflecting on the beautiful spirit that persists even in the face of her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Gay Harden knew at a young age that her life would be anything but ordinary. One of five lively children born to two Texas natives—Beverly, a proper Dallas lady, and Thad, a young naval officer—she always had a knack for storytelling, role-playing, and adventure. As a military family, the Hardens moved often, and their travels eventually took them to Yokohama, off the coast of Japan, during the Vietnam War era. It was here that Beverly, amid the many challenges of raising her family abroad, found her own self-expression in ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging. Using the philosophy of ikebana as her starting point, Marcia Gay Harden intertwines the seasons of her mother’s life with her own journey from precocious young girl to budding artist in New York City to Academy Award-winning actress. With a razor-sharp wit, as well as the kind of emotional honesty that has made her performances resonate with audiences worldwide, Marcia captures the joys and losses of life even as her precious mother gracefully strives to maintain her identity while coming to grips with Alzheimer’s disease. Powerful and incredibly stirring, illustrates the unforgettable vulnerability and beauty of motherhood, as Marcia does what Beverly can no longer do: she remembers.

About The Book

About The Author

Marcia Gay Harden is an actress of the stage, screen, and television. She is also an author, an advocate for Alzheimer’s research, a gardener, and a potter. She lives in Los Angeles and New York with her three children, two cats, and a dog. The fish stays in LA. Learn more from and follow her on Twitter @MGH_8.

About The Author

Raves and Reviews

“A fiercely loving and tender tribute to Marcia Gay Harden’s mother, remembering for her and for us what Alzheimer’s has stolen, filling those darkened holes with compassion, acceptance, beauty, and love. I savored every page and didn’t want it to end.”— 

“What a surprise to find that Marcia Gay Harden is as talented a writer as she is an actress. She has given us a heartbreakingly beautiful account of a devoted daughter coping with her lovely mother’s slow slide into Alzheimer’s. The book is like Marcia Gay herself – smart, charming, strong, funny, and vulnerable. Among other things, her account of Oscar night when she won for Best Supporting Actress made me laugh and cry at the same time. An elegantly-written, intelligent, and enjoyable read.”—

“Honest, courageous, and often very funny, New York Times Stories I Only Tell My Friends

„From the start of this book there is something facing a time and place new to me, speaking a language Marcia is teaching me to understand: I promise you, you have not been here before. If motherhood has a destiny, it is the beautiful life on this road, in these fields, on these pages, where a great actor has told us a true story about her mother and the intelligence and happiness surrounding it.“Julia

„Praise, love, and honor all play roles in this respectful, highly affectionate memoir about a spirited mother-daughter relationship.“—Kirkus Reviews

„Marcia Gay Harden makes a literary statement with this moving story of her relationship with her mother, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.“—Entertainment Weekly

“Poignant, beautiful . . . . Replete with emotionally resonant scenes, humor, and tales of Harden’s own journey as an actor,

“The devotion and heartbreak of a loving mother-daughter relationship are captured with affection and precision in this graceful memoir. Harden delivers a love letter to her mother, in which the extraordinary elements of her ordinary life shine through.”—Publishers Weekly

“The Oscar-winning actress showcases lyrical writing in this heartbreaking memoir.”— Entertainment Weekly

“Throughout this lush and lyrical memoir, Harden aptly demonstrates how her mother is ‘living’ with the disease and not ‘suffering’ from it… every page of this moving, reverent and gorgeously written book, she has resplendently succeeded.”—

“[F]lowers and their meaning run through this intergenerational story, organized around the seasons and the blooms they bring to mind, Marcia’s childhood and her sometimes-spiky relationship with her parents. The description of her mother’s drift into the limbo of Alzheimer’s will be familiar to anyone dealing with a family member who has dementia, but the author sees through what has been lost… is beauty here, and tragedy… as an actor, Harden uses the persuasive strength of her voice to inhabit every line.”— New York Times

 Marcia Gay Harden Biography

Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden has forged a remarkable body of work, always staying true to her chameleon style of “becoming the character.” Her character portraits have been described by critics as searing, heartbreaking, inventive, pure and profane simultaneously, astonishing, authentic, and sensuous. From the glamorous Ava Gardner in Sinatra to the artist Lee Krasner in Pollock (for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) to the down and out Celeste in Mystic River Harden has created a signature style based in character transformation. Her versatility and wide-range have been praised in such films as Millers Crossing, The First Wives Club, Meet Joe Black, Mona Lisa Smile, The Hoax, and Used People.

Up next is the highly anticipated Universal film Fifty Shades of Grey, in which she plays Christian Grey’s mother. The release of this film has been set for Valentine’s Day 2015. Recent projects include Elsa & Fred starring the legendary Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, the ABC comedy series „Trophy Wife,“ which starred Malin Ackerman, Bradley Whitford, and Michaela Watkins and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, starring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, and Jacki Weaver. This fall, Harden reprised her role as First Amendment attorney Rebecca Halliday in the critically acclaimed guest star role on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series „The Newsroom.“

Harden has chosen a life away from mainstream Hollywood, crossing between independent and studio films, and television and theatre. In 2011 Harden reprised the role she originated on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning play „God of Carnage“ along with the original cast with a tremendously successful stage run at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. In 2009, it was her exceptional Broadway performance in this starring role that garnered her the Best Actress Tony Award. Her fellow-nominated co-stars in the play included James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, and Jeff Daniels. Additionally, she received an Outer Circle Critics Award for her performance, as well as nominations from the Drama Desk and Drama League. That same year, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her role in The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

Other nominations include a Tony nomination for Tony Kushner’s „Angels in America“ (for which she won the Drama Desk and Theatre World Awards), an Emmy nomination for her guest appearance on „Law and Order: SVU,“ also an Independent Spirit Award nomination for American Gun.

Additional television appearances include: starring in Lifetime’s The Amanda Knox Story, portraying Amanda’s mother Edda Mellas opposite Hayden Panettiere, co-starring in the critically acclaimed FX drama „Damages“ opposite William Hurt and Glenn Close.

Additional film credits include: Parkland, which also starred Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Ron Livingston, If I Were You co-starring Aidan Quinn, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, with Peter Gallagher and Ellen Burstyn, Detachment co-starring Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, and Lucy Liu for Tribeca Films. Harden co-starred in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, in which her daughter Eulala Scheel also had a co-starring role, The Maiden Heist with William H. Macy, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Walken, Canvas, Rails and Ties, Stephen King’s The Mist for which she won a Saturn Award,) Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, and The Christmas Cottage with Peter O’Toole.

From 2015 to 2018, Harden portrayed Grace Trevelyan Grey, Christian Grey’s mother, in the film trilogy Fifty Shades of Gray, which starred Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

Harden is an advocate for awareness and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, which her mother has. Harden testified in front of the U.S. Senate in June 2018 to advocate on behalf of the more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, including her mother, urging Congress to continue to prioritize critical legislation and disease-research funding increases. That same year, Harden released „Seasons of My Mother,“ a memoir that shares insight into her intimate, profound relationship with her mother.

Harden graduated from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Theatre and an MFA from the Graduate Acting program at New York University.

Contact a speaker booking agent to check availability on Marcia Gay Harden and other top speakers and celebrities.

The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers

Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden joined the cast of Netflix’s remake of „Point Blank,“ starring Frank Grillo and Anthony Mackie.

EXCLUSIVE: There is a major casting change on the CBS medical drama pilot Code Black. Marcia Gay Harden, originally cast in the co-starring role of Christa, …

ABC has enlisted another theater great to join “How to Get Away With Murder,” as Variety has learned that Marcia Gay Harden will join the cast of the freshman …

Marcia Gay Harden Biography

Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden has forged a remarkable body of work, always staying true to her chameleon style of “becoming the character.” Her character portraits have been described by critics as searing, heartbreaking, inventive, pure and profane simultaneously, astonishing, authentic, and sensuous. From the glamorous Ava Gardner in Sinatra to the artist Lee Krasner in Pollock (for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) to the down and out Celeste in Mystic River Harden has created a signature style based in character transformation. Her versatility and wide-range have been praised in such films as Millers Crossing, The First Wives Club, Meet Joe Black, Mona Lisa Smile, The Hoax, and Used People.

Up next is the highly anticipated Universal film Fifty Shades of Grey, in which she plays Christian Grey’s mother. The release of this film has been set for Valentine’s Day 2015. Recent projects include Elsa & Fred starring the legendary Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, the ABC comedy series „Trophy Wife,“ which starred Malin Ackerman, Bradley Whitford, and Michaela Watkins and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, starring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, and Jacki Weaver. This fall, Harden reprised her role as First Amendment attorney Rebecca Halliday in the critically acclaimed guest star role on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series „The Newsroom.“

Harden has chosen a life away from mainstream Hollywood, crossing between independent and studio films, and television and theatre. In 2011 Harden reprised the role she originated on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning play „God of Carnage“ along with the original cast with a tremendously successful stage run at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. In 2009, it was her exceptional Broadway performance in this starring role that garnered her the Best Actress Tony Award. Her fellow-nominated co-stars in the play included James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, and Jeff Daniels. Additionally, she received an Outer Circle Critics Award for her performance, as well as nominations from the Drama Desk and Drama League. That same year, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her role in The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

Other nominations include a Tony nomination for Tony Kushner’s „Angels in America“ (for which she won the Drama Desk and Theatre World Awards), an Emmy nomination for her guest appearance on „Law and Order: SVU,“ also an Independent Spirit Award nomination for American Gun.

Additional television appearances include: starring in Lifetime’s The Amanda Knox Story, portraying Amanda’s mother Edda Mellas opposite Hayden Panettiere, co-starring in the critically acclaimed FX drama „Damages“ opposite William Hurt and Glenn Close.

Additional film credits include: Parkland, which also starred Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Ron Livingston, If I Were You co-starring Aidan Quinn, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, with Peter Gallagher and Ellen Burstyn, Detachment co-starring Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, and Lucy Liu for Tribeca Films. Harden co-starred in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, in which her daughter Eulala Scheel also had a co-starring role, The Maiden Heist with William H. Macy, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Walken, Canvas, Rails and Ties, Stephen King’s The Mist for which she won a Saturn Award,) Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, and The Christmas Cottage with Peter O’Toole.

From 2015 to 2018, Harden portrayed Grace Trevelyan Grey, Christian Grey’s mother, in the film trilogy Fifty Shades of Gray, which starred Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

Harden is an advocate for awareness and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, which her mother has. Harden testified in front of the U.S. Senate in June 2018 to advocate on behalf of the more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, including her mother, urging Congress to continue to prioritize critical legislation and disease-research funding increases. That same year, Harden released „Seasons of My Mother,“ a memoir that shares insight into her intimate, profound relationship with her mother.

Harden graduated from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Theatre and an MFA from the Graduate Acting program at New York University.

Contact a speaker booking agent to check availability on Marcia Gay Harden and other top speakers and celebrities.

Marcia Gay Harden News

Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden joined the cast of Netflix’s remake of „Point Blank,“ starring Frank Grillo and Anthony Mackie.

EXCLUSIVE: There is a major casting change on the CBS medical drama pilot Code Black. Marcia Gay Harden, originally cast in the co-starring role of Christa, …

ABC has enlisted another theater great to join “How to Get Away With Murder,” as Variety has learned that Marcia Gay Harden will join the cast of the freshman …

All her life, her mother helped pave the way for her success. Now, as her mother battles Alzheimer’s, Marcia Gay Harden offers her love and support.

For years, mom and I had talked about writing a book together. A book about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. A big coffee table book with beautiful pictures of flowers, like the calla lily and fern she’d arranged at the alter for my wedding. Mom said calla lilies were a symbol of holiness, faith and purity. The book would have been full of the information she conveyed so well, as she did at the ikebana class she taught for my friends in California while we awaited the birth of my oldest daughter.

But we never wrote that book. My mother has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in 2011, though some signs appeared even before then. There is nothing good about Alzheimer’s. It’s not a disease where you can make lemonade from lemons. It steals our memories, and what are we without our memories?

But my mother has taught me that, in the midst of loss, there is indestructible spirit. There is beauty. And always love.

Though she has forgotten so much, sometimes even the names and faces of her children, much of her personality is intact. She still likes polite children and beds that are made. She loves birds and classical music, the Beach Boys and Petula Clark. She is neat, almost prim, and she has a passion for flowers. She also still loves ikebana, something she came to master when we were stationed in Yokohama, Japan, where my father had been sent to command a ship during the Vietnam War.

I was the middle of five—children, mind you, not kids. As my mom said, kids was a name for goats. In many ways, my parents were polar opposites: Mom, the delicate Dallas lady, and Dad, the rough-and-tumble El Paso cowboy turned naval officer. But they were also the yin to each other’s yang. I often wonder how she did it all, raising us on her own while Dad was away at sea for long stretches of time.

In Japan, we drank powdered milk from the commissary. We did our homework and got good grades, or else we would be in trouble. We were allowed five minutes each on the hallway phone (and my sisters and I never called boys). We took ballet and charcoal drawing classes and said our “hallowed be thy name” prayers. We learned to sew. There was no TV, so we read books and listened to Harry Belafonte as we waited for Dad to return.

Mother took a class in ikebana and fell in love with its discipline, its colors and fragrances and the waxy flowers and leaves. She would place arrangements throughout the house. After school, we were greeted by flowers. Pink gladiolus nestled between limegreen bamboo shoots, erupting from a low olive vase. As Mom explained, they were arranged to form a simple triangle symbolizing heaven, earth and man—or shin, soe and hikae in Japanese.

Unlike the Western tradition of plunking hothouse blossoms in a vase, ikebana allows you to gather cuttings, what’s known as line material, from whatever is in season. Pussy willow, palm and pine, draping jasmine and cherry blossom, forsythia, wisteria— Mother used all of them. Ikebana originated with monks arranging flowers at temples, and I don’t doubt that the meditative quality is what drew Mom to it. Ikebana gave her time to pause and reflect on beauty, nature and God.

She always marked the holidays. We had green pancakes on St. Patrick’s Day. A Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie appeared in our brown-bag lunches on Valentine’s Day, along with a heart-shaped card of red construction paper and a note declaring her love for us.

My favorite valentine was a folded red heart with a wrapped piece of Wrigley’s spearmint chewing gum glued to the front of it. Inside the card, Mom had written “I’m stuck on you” (she loved puns). After lunch in the schoolyard, I snuck the gum in my mouth and chewed, savoring the love of my mom. I didn’t even spit it out that night when I went to bed. In the morning, there was a sticky mess of chewing gum in my hair and Mom had to cut it out—a little less stuck on me then.

She helped me get my start as a professional actor. I’d graduated from the University of Texas with a theater major and moved to Washington, D.C. My plan was to audition for plays in the D.C. area and get my union card, then move to New York. But I had to pay the rent, so I worked in a parking garage by day and waitressed at night.

One day, when I was visiting my parents in their Virginia home, Mom pulled out a newspaper article. “Look, dear,” she said, “there are auditions at the Little Theatre of Old Town Alexandria for I Ought to Be in Pictures.”

“No, honey,” she said, “It says it’s a play by Neil Simon.”

We went back and forth, me insisting it was a musical, she pointing out the role of Libby, the adolescent daughter. Finally I gave in and went. And got the part—no singing required. I got good reviews and made a brag sheet of them that I showed around. I got another play and more good reviews. And a union card. All because my mother wouldn’t give up on me.

When I made it to New York, Mom helped me move into a fifth-floor walkup. At night, we climbed the rickety fire escape to the rooftop to gaze at the sky, our heads back, our eyes wide, our mouths full of prayers. On Sundays we went to Marble Collegiate Church to hear Arthur Caliandro preach and get books and tapes of Norman Vincent Peale’s sermons. On one spring visit, we bought some forsythia at the corner deli and Mom made a beautiful arrangement with that triangle of earth, heaven and man—shin, soe and hikae—mimicking that starry night sky. By then, she was a real force in the ikebana world, having revived the Fort Worth chapter almost single-handedly.

She and Dad were with me when I accepted my Oscar for best supporting actress, playing Lee Krasner, the wife of painter Jackson Pollock in the movie Pollock. It wasn’t hard to find them from the stage. Dad was standing up, his arms over his head, bellowing “Bravo!” He was crying, and Mom was crying and trying to pull him down by his tuxedo jacket. Later that night, I put the Oscar on the coffee table in our hotel room and got down on my knees to say a prayer of gratitude.

After Dad’s death, Mom was often my companion on the red carpet. She loved to travel and took delight in the pampering that came with getting our hair and makeup done. We were on the plane for one of those Hollywood junkets when I saw the first sign of something amiss. She put her passport in her purse and minutes later went to check it, not remembering where it was. This happened several times before the plane even took off. “Something is wrong, Marcia,” she said. “I shouldn’t keep forgetting this.”

Marcia and her mother, Beverly, before the Tony Awards in 2009.

At another junket a couple years later, there were two back-to-back events, the press night and the premiere. Mom kept getting confused about which dress she was supposed to wear for which event. She came to my hotel room and said she couldn’t remember if that night was the press night or the premiere. She was embarrassed and panicky. In that instant, I realized she wasn’t sure if the evening before had already passed without her having any memory of it.

She rallied, but I was devastated. I couldn’t bear to think of her with Alzheimer’s. She was supposed to grow old as gracefully as she had already lived, like one of her flower arrangements. I slept with her in her hotel room—I didn’t want her to be alone or confused when she woke up. I thought of the Valentine’s Day spearmint gum and wanted to be a piece of gum to stick the pieces of her memory back together.

We sold my mother’s Fort Worth house in anticipation of the mounting costs of caregiving. She now lives in a smaller, comfortable ranch-style house. It doesn’t have her plants, her pyracantha or American beautyberry, but she is near doctors and a church, near my sisters—who shower Mom with love and visits—and near caregivers who take wonderful, exacting care of her. But the change has depressed us, and the inability to do much, to do more, has darkened my spirit.

The moment came that I’d expected and dreaded—when she didn’t remember me. It was a simple conversation. We were on the phone discussing my children’s spring break from school and whether I would be able to make it to Texas or if I would take the kids (kids!) to Hawaii. Her reply, “I’m sorry, but who are you?” was surely harder for her than it was for me. I was prepared for it; it had been coming on gradually.

“It’s okay if you don’t remember me,” I said. “I will always remember you.”

Not long ago, I was FaceTiming with her, and I could tell that she started to say something and then stopped. “God…,” she said.

“Love,” she said. “Love. It happens to everyone. The better the thoughts, the better the thinking.” When all is said and done, what exists is love. It transcends place and time, like the beauty of a flower. And it is indestructible.

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Marcia Gay Harden is a keynote speaker and industry expert who speaks on a wide range of topics . The estimated speaking fee range to book Marcia Gay Harden for your event is $30,000 – $50,000. Marcia Gay Harden generally travels from New York, NY, USA and can be booked for (private) corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances. Similar motivational celebrity speakers are Marilu HennerDiane GuerreroTony PlanaSarah Rafferty and Jennifer Ehle. Contact All American Speakers for ratings, reviews, videos and information on scheduling Marcia Gay Harden for an upcoming live or virtual event.

Latest

Marcia Gay Harden will topline indie drama “The Librarian” as a woman who finds a new life path while touring Costa Rica.

“The Librarian,” produced by Classic Films in collaboration with Mano a Mano Films, is being directed by Juan Feldman from a script by Joel Silverman.

Harden plays a mild-mannered librarian suffering through a midlife crisis as she takes in the exotic flora and fauna of Costa Rica, where she accidently hires a man who’s a lothario and dime-store philosopher for her tour. Pic shoots in July throughout Costa Rica.

“It’s a magical place and one that really does have the natural power to help restore a person,” Feldman said. “The common greeting there are the words ‘pura vida’ — pure life.”

Feldman, who has worked as an assistant director for two decades, helmed the short film “Keepsake” and the play “Accepting the Pale.”

Silverman’s credits include “Garo” for Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney and “Undefeated” for Scott Stuber at Universal. Digital Domain recently bought his drama “Brian Stokes,” and he’s writing “Barney Ross” for Lawrence Gordon.

Harden has recently worked in CBS Films’ “Get a Job,” “If I Were You,” “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You” and “The Wine of Summer.”

Harden is represented by UTA and manager Maryellen Mulcahy of Framework Entertainment. Silverman is repped by Jordan Bayer and Chris Sablan at Original Artists.

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