“Familiar” – a documentary short by Anna Thorsen

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One year ago, my daughter proposed a project. I am so happy I agreed. It was a powerful and transformative experience.

Familiar is a short documentary about my Swedish mother, Karin Thorsen. Her story is told through the letters she wrote to her best friends from 1968-2001.

This project was my daughter’s Grad Film for Langara’s Documentary Film Production course.

Director: Anna Thorsen
Executive Producer: Annat Kennet and Langara College
Writer/Editor: Anna Thorsen
Cinematographer: Anna Thorsen
Lighting/Sound: Anna Thorsen
Original Score: Julian Bowers
Research Support: Katarina Thorsen
Translator: Katarina Thorsen

To watch, go to: FAMILIAR

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Thank you Anna for this transformative experience.


60 years ago my mother became a mother. (Karin Kristina Orwald 1936 – 2008)

Decades are significant.

60 years ago my mother became a mother.


My older brother born Summer 1958


50 years ago we moved to Canada from Sweden.

Leaving Grums, Sweden, October 31, 1968

50 years ago, my mother started to write letters home to Sweden.



30 years ago, my mother’s second grandchild was born.

My son born January 1988

10 years ago, I had my ear to my mother’s chest and listened as her heart slowed down and then stop.  My brother held her face and guided her through.  Surrounded by family. Her final exhale liberated her soul and I felt right then she flew straight down to San Francisco to be with my daughter who flew home ta few days later.

10 years.

On this day, I am lucky enough to work from home and simply be in my space in peace and joy.  I did what I learned so well from mamma- I cleaned the bathroom, did the dishes, mopped the floors (making sure to go behind the furniture).

I ate food so iconically mamma- pannkaka and cookies and egg.

Drank coffee.  And bit into an apple.

The apple is significant.

Mamma’s full name is Karin Kristina Orwald (Thorsen).

The Emigrant Saga Series by Wilhelm Moberg has so many parallels to mamma’s journey.  And the main character, Kristina, is wrapped in the metaphor her beloved apple tree at home in Sweden and on her death bed holds a ripe apple from her tree in Minnesota.

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The Apple Tree, by Roar Thorsen, 2010

I remember that final year, when I mopped mom’s floors and she lay on her bed and we laughed and shared stories and talked about Pinesol.

Karin Summer 2008

I love you, Mamma.

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Dan Orwald, who passed away suddenly last week.

My aunt Siv with my Cousin Annika, Dan in the middle and Mamma holding my older brother, Christmas 1958.

You are motherhood. You are the greatest mystery.

Only do not forget, if I wake up crying it’s only because in my dream I’m a lost child hunting through the leaves of the night for your hands… – Pablo Neruda

Journal entry November 8, 2016:

8 years ago today, my little brother held my mother’s face and spoke sweetly, guiding my mother.  I laid my right ear on her chest and I heard her heart slow then stop. A last sigh.  Then she flew.  She became everything.


Oh how I love you, Mamma.  I see you more and more in my face, in my body.  I welcome each sag, each wrinkle, each change in my bones.  Your fingers are my fingers (on my right hand), your laugh is mine (and the parrot’s), your worn out recipe book has butter and flour stains and smells like your kitchen.   When I hold Henrik and Vivienne, I feel you holding them as well.  You whirl around the family and your spirit and love fills the room.

I still reach for the phone to call you.  I want to talk about cleaners and the latest soup recipe with you.  I want to have you lie on your bed with Asterix as I sort your closet and we laugh at sweaters we have held on to.  I want to hop in the car with you and Tobey or Tina or Milton and walk for hours in the forest hunting for mushrooms.

public domain

I want to pull out all my Molly research and discuss it with you, head to Molly’s grave and have a picnic.  I want to cook with you as the kids lounge in your bedroom watching cartoons.  I want to pull out the furniture and dust behind the couch and weed the garden as we gossip and laugh.  I want to spend full days in Fort Langley.

I no longer pursue your dreams on your behalf; I pursue mine as you truly always wanted me to do.

You feared to lose me, but you never did.

And as I become more and more myself, I become more and more your love.

Look at the legacy you created.

You are love.  You are beauty.  You are motherhood.  You are the greatest mystery.


I need to process you.  I want to write about you.

Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008



The maternal eyelids that buried will again open toward the heights…

Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008

Because you are
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

From Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground



Desperately seeking Karin… #journal #grief #arttherapy

As I work on the book with Dad, I am drenched in memories and find myself obsessively looking at photos of my mother.  She’s around 20 in the photos and just starting her adult life.

I am loving it, but it’s also overwhelming.  Knowing the path that lies ahead of her… Last night I walked in the rain and cried, allowing the grief to present itself.  I then let myself process it in my journal.  I did a quick interpretation of mom with china marker and acrylic on newsprint.  Then wrote on top and just let the words flow and the pain in the chest release.  Very therapeutic.

…  desperately seeking Karin.  Looking at old photos as I prepare our book and I am struck by mom’s beauty and innocence as she starts her life with dad.  I am struck by the knowledge I have, but she didn’t have then, of what lay ahead.  I am shattered by the thought that she would lose her mother when she was just age 28.  I can’t imagine.  She was a motherless daughter as she struggled through raising us.  But she loved so fiercely.  She lived.  She raised us as a mom should – with full bellies, clean clothes, tons of support and enthusiasm and safety,  With mom, I felt safe…

I’m not avoiding.  I’m dealing.  And loving the process.  And very grateful to Dad for his meticulous photo albums.

The Sketchbook Project page 2


Theme: And Then There Was None

Page 2 Transcript

Friday October 8, 2010

Westfield San Francisco Centre

Karin • Kristina • Mamma

It’s almost been 2 years since mom passed away.  I have never really written about those last moments.  For they were not “last.”  But all of a sudden– Mom’s powerful presence in our life changed.  I felt her breathe out.  Her heart slowed and stopped.  I was there with my head on her chest.  And we surrounded her with love and support and her spirit infused us.  It is actually impossible to grasp.  How does life continue after that?  And is it OK to actually feel free and perhaps free-er?  Heart

I miss just talking to Mom.  Just about the kids and laundry and food and life.  I miss the chatter and the camaraderie and the “I get it” and the simple stuff.  We could talk about kids.

I miss my own childhood.  The safety + fun or being the kid.

Collection for more pages:

See page 1 at The Sketchbook Project page 1

See page 2 at The Sketchbook Project page 2

See page 3 at The Sketchbook Project page 3

See page 4 at The Sketchbook Project page 4

See page 5 at The Sketchbook Project page 5

See page 6 at The Sketchbook Project page 6

See page 7 at The Sketchbook Project page 7

See page 8 at The Sketchbook Project page 8