Memories of Betty

 


This is one of my favorite photos of my sister Betty, clearing out
her dorm room in college to come home for the summer.

My sister Betty Dykstra Wilcox passed away early this morning, November 5, 2021. Eight years ago, at the beginning of her battle with Alzheimer’s, I wrote this poem about a visit Forgottenman and I made to her house to try to alter it a bit to enable her to live independently for as long as possible. He scrubbed pots and pans and organized the kitchen while I sorted out and labeled bedroom drawers on the outside to indicate contents. When she grew distressed over our sorting out of items in the upstairs storage room, he whisked her off for smash burgers and she returned happy.

I will always be grateful for these last warm memories of my sister before she slipped completely into the clutches of Alzheimer’s. Every night, we three sat on the front steps. Forgottenman played his guitar and sang and the little girls from across the street would come running to sit in the grass and listen. One night their folks joined them and another night when we were in the backyard playing croquet with Betty, one of the little girls went into Betty’s house, got his guitar and brought it out to the backyard requesting that he play!

Then one night when we came in from the front yard, she wandered into the music room and we heard strains of piano music coming from her piano. It was the last time I ever heard her play, and this is the poem that was the result:

 

When My Sister Plays the Piano

The first notes, beautiful and true, float like a memory through the air.
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.

“Slow Boat to China,”
“Paper Doll”—
song after song
expressed
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 “Ebb Tide,”
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.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” 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?

R.I.P. Betty. Next July at the town reunion in Murdo, the town we grew up in, we’ll have a memorial for her and bury her ashes in the family plot. xoox

Forgottenman just sent me a video of Betty he took when he joined us for Thanksgiving right after we first met in person. In the first part, she is just inventing a song, but afterwards, I suggest she play “Ebb Tide.” She’s not able to play it on the little keyboard but she does play “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which she always played because it was one of my father’s favorites. It is pure coincidence that both of these songs are mentioned in the poem. A nice synchronicity.

 

61 thoughts on “Memories of Betty

  1. Anonymous

    Painfully beautiful. It’s wonderful that we have our memories. She & others like her, everything is stolen.
    Sending my love to all of you & yours
    Cousin, Kirk

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  2. Mama Cormier

    I’m so sad to read this and can only imagine the sadness that is bearing down on your heart today. We all know that the day is coming when our loved ones will leave us but when it happens it is never easy. Hugs from afar. Carol

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Lala Ribera

    Hola Judy, Sad to read of your sister’s passing and to also read your poem about her fading memories. This news comes just a couple of days after talking to my own sister, Joanne, hearing her sad story that husband Warren couldn’t remember his son Buzzy anymore… Such a cruel disease. Sorry for her loss. Enjoy every moment with loved ones. And I love you Judy. Laurie

    >

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. lifelessons Post author

      Looks like we both have had sadness in our lives lately, Derrick, but so glad your mother lived to such a ripe old age and happy that my sister is finally released from the bonds of Alzheimer’s. Still, sad feelings and memories are part of the entire scheme.

      Liked by 3 people

      Reply
  4. M. Oniker

    Beautiful poem, beautiful memories, I’m glad you have these to hold onto. I’m so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing these with us. You, and Betty, have touched many people with this.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  5. Lou Carreras

    I am sitting down to write a post about doorways of past, and of course, music is one of the big ones. All the usual sentiments about loss seem hollow against the sort of remorseless hollowing out of our lives that Alzheimer’s brings with it. All I can say Judy is that I am very sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  6. Eilene Lyon

    I’m sad to hear of your loss, Judy, not just today, but for all the lost years of connection. Your poem is a glimpse into the strange world that is Alzheimer’s and dementia. Beautifully done. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  7. Cee Neuner

    My heart goes out to you and all the fond memories of your sister. I’m so glad you and Forgotten man were able to spend time with her while she was still partially there. Your poem spoke of love and family. May she be at peace. May you find your balance and peace once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lifelessons Post author

      She was a wonderful piano player and that stumbling was not her usual style. Her not being able to remember the names of any songs was an indicator of what was to come, but happy to have this video. I recently saw one that someone took at her wedding that I had never seen before, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  8. Marilyn Armstrong

    I remember when I saw my brother as he was losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a tall guy and built like my son. By the time I saw him, he was skeletal. Pancreatic cancer is a killer and a silent one. By the time you know you have it, it’s too late to do much about it. T

    There is no good way to lose ones brother or sister. It’s wonderful you had some good days with her before she slipped out of touch. I hope Betty passed peacefully and you will find comfort remembering her, even though you will always miss her.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. judyreeveswriter

    This story and poem makes my heart ache, Judy. How mysterious we humans, this life. You’ve captured a moment that sings with humanity. Thank you for sharing the story of that time, and the poem again. Blessings to you and Betty.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lifelessons Post author

      And… the plot thickens. My friend Betty, who has been my friend down here for 20 years and with whom I’ve had many adventures, died this morning as well. Glenda’s granddaughter died four days ago. It goes on and on..Lots of sadness here and lots of determination to make life count!!! oxox

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  10. Diana

    Heartfelt poem and story. I can relate. My two grandmother’s, my aunt and my mother, Shirlee, had various dementia s in the last part of their lives. It is such a bewildering experience. My aunt had her music until the very end. My Nana kept her humor. Mom had humor and anger, you wouldn’t have known her. As my mind starts changing, am losing names, nouns, I pretty much feel in on the road. Still active, still painting, learning to cope, lists and calendars, very important. Best wishes to you

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lifelessons Post author

      Diana, What year did Shirlee pass away? I remember her getting very angry with everyone in 2000-2001 before I left. Do you think this was part of her dementia? My sister went through a year of being sad all the time, then a year of being angry and even violent. Then she became very happy until the past year when she seemed to just go away entirely.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    2. lifelessons Post author

      I think staying very active and using your mind to solve things.. doing new things…is the answer to staving off dementia, if there is any answer. I can feel those same slips myself. That’s why I started writing rhymed and metered poetry to prompts. It requires staying sharp.

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