"There’s no friend like a sister"

So my last post is a downer, and I want a quick rebuttal, so that you know I do have “a right to smile” and a lot to smile about. Writing this blog is really cathartic for me. Emotions percolate deep below my conscious thought, often manifesting in anxiety about teaching. But when I write about them, I discover their true source and literally come to terms with them, feeling calmer and more accepting in the process. So when people […]

Break a Leg

As I said on Facebook, my folks can’t seem to get a break—well, they got one, but not the kind we wanted. A couple of weeks ago, Mom fell and broke her femur, near the hip joint. She may have had a second fall, but we don’t know the details. A caregiver found her, and my Dad spent another day in ER, while they took x-rays and CT-scans, eventually coming to the conclusion that she would need surgery. After surgery, she […]

Lay Back the Darkness

If I’d read Edward Hirsch’s “Lay Back the Darkness” before writing my previous post, maybe I could have laid back some of my own darkness. Hirsch read the poem at Davidson a few years ago, but it didn’t speak to me then. That was well before Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I’m a firm believer that poems open up to you when you need them, and shun you—sometimes quite rudely—when you don’t. Yesterday, watching the video of Hirsch’s talk at Davidson, I […]

One Wild and Precious Life?

Something there is that doesn’t love a post, that sends me off to Facebook, Buzzfeed, and email, even when I know I need to write. It’s been more than two weeks since I flew home to Connecticut to visit my folks, seeing them, for the first time, living in separate quarters: Dad in his new apartment; Mom in assisted living. There was so much to take in that I didn’t even miss the basement. Dad has turned the master bedroom […]

Woman much missed

In Thomas Hardy’s poem, “The Voice,” repetition and rhyme create a haunting echo, sounding out a persistent tugging of desire that can neither be escaped nor fulfilled: Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me, Saying that now you are not as you were When you had changed from the one who was all to me, But as at first, when our day was fair. Read this stanza once, and the earworm will burrow into your mind. […]

Speak to me : Take my hand : What are you now?

When I FaceTimed with my mom on January 5th—her 75th birthday—she was surprisingly “good.” I put that word in quotations marks because I’m uncomfortable with the moral judgment it seems to place on the natural course of her disease. Yet that’s the word that come to mind, and she was really, pretty good: she knew it was her birthday, she said she was 75, and she asked me (un-prompted), “What’s Matt doing?” The question meant that she not only knew […]

Are You My Mother?

This photo was taken in October 2013, the last time I saw my mother. She looks just like herself, doesn’t she? That’s because I had just washed and styled her hair for her. (Although Dad had been reminding her to take showers, I’m not sure if or with what she’d been washing her hair.) I also picked out her outfit and helped her put it on in the right order. (She’d put on the wool cardigan without a blouse under […]

Basement Elegy

My dad and siblings are cleaning out my parents’ basement this weekend. I get occasional texts from my sister with a photo of an Irish wool sweater, or the nurse’s costume Nana made me one Halloween, so tiny it looks like it was made for a doll: “Do you want this?” No, to the wool sweater (I’m allergic). Yes, to the nurse costume (I’m nostalgic). But I really don’t want anything that’s in the basement; I want the basement. The […]

The Strange, New World of Alzheimer’s

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease almost two years ago, and her cognitive functions have declined steadily ever since. The disease is relentless, incurable, and inscrutable, but—as my friend Kelly Chaston said of the nonsmoker’s lung cancer that took her life when she was only 48—her illness is not a tragedy. More than 5 million Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s, and my mother is one of the lucky few who, like Kelly, has excellent health care, […]