I gasped when I first read this poem. It could have been about my mother, except that she had no lover to weep for her.
My mother knew something was changing long before her Alzheimer’s was diagnosed. “I’m losing my memory,” she said.
I dismissed her fears. She’d been forgetful as long as I’d known her. But she knew this time was different.It wasn’t just the normal distraction-caused forgetting. This was a huge boulder rolling over her, flattening her intelligence, good humour, compassion and wit. She became the dotty old woman who never went outside without a baseball cap and jacket, no matter how warm the weather.
She hated being the last of her siblings to die. She wanted “to go home”, back to the Nebraska homestead where she had been happiest, back to sun-ripe peaches and fireflies. Back to snuggling on her father’s lap, before the baby died and his heart froze.
She was fortunate to be living in a tiny apartment surrounded by other aging women. Her landlords did more than just collect the rent. They checked on their tenants as if they were part of an extended family.
The landlords, her neighbours, and my brother and his wife made sure Mother ate, bathed, and kept the bills paid. Thanks to them, she was able to stay in her own home long enough to forget how to cook, how to clean, how to walk to the corner without getting lost.
The month finally came when the landlord had to insist she move. She could no longer live safely on her own, even with all the support and care. Although I was grief stricken when an aneurysm killed her shortly before she was to vacate her apartment, I’ve come to see hers as a kind death.
She had been afraid and unhappy for a long time. At last, she could go home.
Thank you for this poem, Marilyn. It gives me a piece of the puzzle of my mother’s last years.
© February 2001 Marilyn Raymond
I wasn’t expecting grace
when it arrived at church this morning.
A small, rounded woman,
heading into the second half of her century,
carried it in.
She looked tired but easy
Lovely in her calm middle-aged confidence
and solidly real.
She stood at the front of the church
and lit a candle.
“I must tell you my hard news,”
she said gently.
“I have Alzheimer’s
and I thought you should know.”
Shock rippled a sudden squall through the church.
Images of raging and wailing and sodden self pity
Struggled in my clenched fists
How will this be?
Falling into mindlessness
Memories and meanings turning off
Lights going out
An empty house
Bare floor boards
Windows looking into formless colours and meaningless shapes
Falling into “Who are you? Who are you?
Disoriented, frightened, lost.
Everything, everything abandoned.
Where is the soul when the self is lost?
And she knows
That this is the future that is rushing
And yet . . .
she smiled at us.
Her lover stood solidly behind her
love and tears shining in his face.
She smiled at us
and I watched her minister to our fear
Perfectly present in this moment
as she laughed about her clumsiness.
She comforted me.
And I was overwhelmed.
This is what love means.
I felt like her mother.
I felt like her daughter.
I felt like her sister.
Pride in her courage
lifted my shoulders
and grief melted over my cheeks.
Dignity and worth filled our church.
[This poem first appeared in Sacred Circle: Writing the Journey, an anthology published by the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna. Marilyn is also the author of Sunflowers, That Apple, Baba Yaga, and Sucking On Stones.]