by Kelly DuMar
Our family’s plan to move my father with Alzheimer’s from an acute hospitalization into Hospice care recently did not go as planned. We’ve all been there many times, right?
There’s what we expect will happen.
There’s what actually happens.
There’s the struggle to accept what is happening.
Coping with my father’s Alzheimer’s continues to bring lessons in letting go of my expectations, accepting reality on its own terms – and writing poetry is one way I find meaning, discover truth and beauty and, sometimes, even humor in the process.
My father’s not ready for hospice, but he can’t return to the memory care assisted living residence we’d grown fond of – where we’d grown comfortable with his caretakers What has happened is that he is now living in an Alzheimer’s Nursing Care facility. Not exactly like the one depicted in the HBO comedy, Getting On – but I relate to most of the experiences the writers depict in the show.
The other morning on my run, I listened to a podcast of Fresh Air, an NPR radio program hosted by Terry Gross, with the creators of Getting On, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. I’m a fan of the show because in Getting On, these writers are making meaning, finding truth and beauty, and sharing humor inspired by their experiences with their own mothers, who were both in extended-care facilities at the ends of their lives.
As a daughter, I’ve been afraid of going to the places where my father’s Alzheimer’s is taking him. But, I can really relate to Scheffer when he shares:
“I think what caring for our mothers really taught us — all the way up through the hospice experience — was that. . . . ‘Gosh, I was so afraid of this, I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to be here.’ But being here is starting to feel like a good thing, a good part of life — something that we avoid in this culture. That actually is a rich experience, albeit painful; it’s actually so much a part of life.”
In “Getting On,” Olsen and Sheffer have found humor and humanity in their experiences of loss and love. Writing about how we feel about our painful experiences, and sharing that writing in any way we choose, is a way of finding truth and beauty in the moments we have with our loved ones who are aging and living and dying in ways we cannot control. As Olsen says:
“When my mother finally lost the ability to speak. . . it saddened me tremendously. . . [her caretakers] would never know who this woman was. . . It hurts on a deep, true level that we really didn’t know what to do with it except put it in a show. . .
Writing about it helped. This is how I feel about taking care of my father and writing poetry. My poems about my father’s memory care and Alzheimer’s are growing into a poetic memoir that is helping me be where I didn’t want to be. A poet friend suggested I submit some of my memory care poems to the editor of Tower Journal, who accepted all seven of them, published this week. I’ve listed them below with a short excerpt from each. I hope you’ll read them in full here. I hope you’ll write your way to truth and beauty and share it with all of us who need to know what you learn.
The Color of Her Eyes
…She looked at me. We must have remembered
something like love, and then she closed her eyes
and I was gone…
Stay put I tell my dad, like a parent
warning an impulsive child to behave
in her absence. I leave the car running,
heat blowing, knowing he can’t follow me…
What This is Called
…You can hold a bright white world called
something beautiful in your hand.
Who Does Not Love a Wall
In the unit called Memory Care he grows
wild and young as a colt restless to sow his
oats and goddammit he will find the exit or
die trying, there’s a wilderness out there…
Somewhere there’s a door but it’s locked. They paint you into a place like this
but any way you look at it there are only two sides to a corner…
Mystery Shopper in Memory Care
…My money must
have slipped my mind into your bank account and I need
to make a deposit. Will you remind me what do I owe and
what I don’t own?…
How He Asks (After Alzheimer’s)
…How did you get here? By this I mean tell me how I
brought you into this world and what you are doing
with the life you’ve been given?…
Kelly DuMar is a poet and playwright whose chapbook “All These Cures,” won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Her award winning plays have been produced around the US and she produces the Our Voices Festival of Boston Women Playwrights & Poets, now in its 9th year. Kelly’s certification in psychodrama and passion for Playback Theatre inspire her creative writing workshops with transformative energy. Visit her website www.kellydumar.com, where you can download her free 50-page guide, Writing Truth & Beauty – Using Your Photos for Poetic Inspiration. Kelly is a member of the TLA Network.