Okay. I’ve hinted and I’ve come right out and asked, so I’m going to use another tactic. I would really like to hear some thoughts about types of loss other than death. I know so many people who have moved to be nearer parents who have Alzheimer’s or who need more care. They give up their lives, friends, houses to do so. This is a huge loss even before the eventual loss of their parents. Any thoughts? I went to visit my sister who was at the stage of Alzheimer’s where it was becoming obvious to all of us that she would soon need to move into a care facility. It was heartbreaking but also a very intimate time together with a sister who was 11 years older than me and so who had always thought of herself more as my “boss” than my sister–in my eyes, as well. We had been a bit estranged for years, so this chance to be with her for a few weeks was both very special and very hard at times. I’m printing a poem I wrote about the experience, hoping it will prime the pump for other peoples’ memories. Please share them. –Judy
I will be the first. This is a poem I wrote while I was at my sister’s house. She is now in a managed care facility which is very hard for her. She keeps thinking she is in a hotel or back in college or even back in our home town in South Dakota. One thing is constant. She keeps wanting to go home. This was written during my last visit with her before she had to move.
When My Sister Plays the Piano
The first notes, beautiful and true, float like a memory up the stairs.
In the week I’ve been here in her house with her, she has not played the piano
and so I thought her music was gone like her memory of what day it is
or whether I am her sister, her daughter or an unknown visitor.
Yet on this morning after her 76th birthday celebration,
music slips like magic from the keys: song after song
from “Fur Elise” to a sweet ballad I don’t know the name of—
sure and correct at first,
then with a heartfelt emotion we had both forgotten.
song after song
in an unfaltering language—
some synchronicity of mind and hand
her brain has opened the door to.
While I listen, time stands still for me
as it has for her so often in the past few years
as yesterday and today shuffle together to
crowd out all consideration of future fears.
For ten minutes or more, she segues
from melody to melody
with no wrong note.
Then “Deep Velvet,”
a song she has played from memory
so many times,
dies after twenty-four notes.
Like a gift held out and snatched away,
I yearn for it, pray she’ll remember.
After an uncharted caesura, her music streams out again,
sweet and sure, for a staff or two—
the sheet music giving her a guide her brain so often can’t.
But after a longer pause, I know it is lost
like the thread of so many conversations.
A hiccup of memory, folding itself away.
“Come And Worship” chimes out
like the tolling of a bell.
The wisp of the old hymn, two phrases only—
before it, too, fades.
That sudden muffled sound.
Is it a songbook displaced from its stand as she searches for another;
or the lid of the piano, quietly closing on yet another partial memory?