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‘My Past Has Caught Up to Me’

Jul 16, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Justin Stoneham

Justin Stoneham’s mother, Karin, was a vivacious woman. He has evidence of it in VHS tapes he discovered after his father died. There she is, in a swimsuit, frolicking on the beach with abandon; now, she’s goofing around with Justin’s father, who trains the lens on her lovingly. But to Justin, this person isn’t his mother. Although she’s still alive, Karin is a stranger he never knew.

Karin suffered a catastrophic stroke when Justin was a toddler. When she awoke from a coma, she was severely disabled, the entire right side of her body paralyzed. She couldn’t speak. She possessed no social skills. She was confined to a facility, where she was fed through a tube and cared for by a 24-hour nursing staff.

“When I saw her for the first time [after the stroke], I asked my father, ‘Who is this woman?’” Justin remembers in his short documentary, Rewind, Forward. “She is here and she is not here.”

Over the years, spending time with his mother was by turns terrifying, alienating, and a burdensome obligation. Eventually, he stopped visiting his mother entirely.

In the short documentary Rewind, Forward, Justin points the camera at himself as he visits his mother in her nursing home for the first time in his adult life. It’s “an encounter,” Justin told The Atlantic, “between my mother and me—now and then. My aim was to tell a story, and by telling it, to understand my mother and myself a little better.” During their visits, Karin communicates with Justin through a keypad. Hanging in the silences between their wistful interactions is a lifetime of pain, regret, love, and burgeoning acceptance.

“I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to call the whole thing off,” Justin said. “In the end, it was the director in me who pulled me through this process. But the protagonist in me is now glad he did.”

Recently, Karin saw the film for the first time during a community screening. “She came on stage with me after,” Justin said. “When she was asked how she liked the film, she said, ‘Mediocre!’ The entire theatre burst out laughing. That is exactly why I was never worried that I could exploit her—even with her condition, she’s still in control. For me, her beauty and her dignity lie in her humor.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.