My Mother's Alzheimer's: A Poem
Why am I here, and what did I do
To deserve this wretched end?
I’m surrounded by many strangers.
(Or maybe they’re my friends?)
My room is cozy and comfortable –
I must admit it’s nice.
(But someone’s stealing my underwear.
Really! It’s happened twice!)
How silly. Who would want an old woman’s panties?
Why would I have thought that?
Oh, I must be losing my mind.
I’m as crazy as a bat.
Did I tell you about my new job?
(Sometimes now I curse.)
Yes, I'm driving a bus now.
Wasn’t I once a nurse?
You come to see me every day
(Why am I in this place?)
I sometimes can’t recall your name
But I do recall the face.
I know you’re someone whom I love –
My daughter, or maybe my mother.
And that man with you –
Is that your husband or your brother?
Your husband? Are you old enough?
He seems to be very nice.
(Help me to remember –
Wasn’t I married twice?)
Oh, Holle, you’re such a good daughter.
Can you stay and eat?
Go tell the director
We’ll need an extra seat.
Did I ever have a husband?
Did I ever have a home?
And did I have a family,
Or did I live alone?
Oh, I remember my husband now,
But I can’t recall his face.
Where is he? Does he come to visit?
Did he put me in this place?
You say he’s passed away?
Tell me, how did he die?
Of old age – really?
Was he older than I?
How old am I, anyway?
I really can’t remember.
And what day and month is this –
Is it November or December?
Did we have Christmas yet?
(Someone stole my tree!)
The lobby decorations are lovely.
Would you like to come and see?
Have we eaten lunch yet? I’m hungry.
(But I don’t care for their food.
And several of the dining staff
Are sometimes very rude.)
The food they serve? It’s fine.
On Fridays we have fish.
They know that’s not my favorite,
So they make me another dish.
They really treat me well here,
I’m as happy as can be.
(See that man in the red sweater?
He wants to marry me.)
You need to tell the attendant
This door is always locked.
I can’t go out when I want to.
I've knocked and knocked and knocked.
I’d like to go out shopping;
(Can I still drive a car?)
I think there’s a mall right down the street.
It isn’t very far.
I wonder if there’s a jeweler.
I need a diamond ring.
(I had a very pretty one,
But the aides steal everything.)
Am I in jail? Have I done something wrong?
(Did I tell you I was in the Army and used to fly a plane?)
Why did I make up such a lie?
What’s happened to my brain?
What time are we leaving –
Or did you ever say?
(My memories have all been stolen,
My whole life taken away.)
A tortured existence -
The sound of death and the smell of screams.
And did I only imagine a life
Beyond these splintered dreams?
The speaker of this poem is my mother – after she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. And yes, she actually said all these things that I’ve related in poetry form. Sometimes she’d be perfectly lucid, and then in an instant, she might be cursing, which she’d never done before her affliction, or babbling nonsense about imagined jobs and the nursing staff’s stealing her belongings. That’s why the poem is disjointed – I was trying to capture her tortured thought process.
My husband and I lived with mother for several years after my father’s death so that Mom could stay in her home. After she started setting fires and wandering off, however, we had to move her into an assisted living facility. After two years, she had to be moved to an Alzheimer's unit.
My mother was a public health nurse, an R.N., for more than three decades. She was the kindest, most altruistic person I have ever known. She and my father were married for sixty years, until his death in 2001. She died in 2008, at the age of eighty-eight, and I still miss her terribly. I fully believe that Alzheimer’s is the most devastating disease there is. It’s just like my mom would say in her lucid moments, “It’s as if someone stole my memories – as if I never even lived at all."