There is a poem in me somewhere, only the distilled intensity of poetry can convey the
images and emotions of this past month while I was in Florida to help Mom and Dad move
through a series of crises involving end-of-life decisions: Mom sleeping on the recliner under a red afghan because the pain from her fractured shoulder prevented her from laying in bed; Mom’s cat, Diamond, wide-eyed at the sudden onslaught of Allcrofts in her quiet life but giving us each a turn with her feline comfort; the wide, bright halls of the nursing home where dad was admitted; the residents walking their wheelchairs backward and forward up and down the wide hallways; a woman staring into a corner, a man with a leprechaun grin tethered to the nurse’s station to keep him from rolling up to other residents and punching them. A woman without a tooth in her head but who managed to yell, “Life is great if you don’t weaken!” and later, when she rolled her chair backwards into a metal easel and knocked it clattering to the floor, shouted to her rescuers, “I thought I’d died!” and then laughed and laughed. Thelma, who neither spoke nor looked at anyone, but walked her chair without stopping, as if maneuvering her car in the fast lane of a highway, the alarm strapped to her ankle providing the truth of her desire to go, just go. The old woman with long hair swept up in an elegant twist on her head who winked and whispered, “Hey, Baby,” every time I walked by.
And what happened to Mike, Dad’s roommate for three days, whose wife rarely left his side? Mike, who suffered five strokes in this past year, and who was swept out of the room in the middle of the night? No one can tell us, privacy rules, of course; there are lots of rules but none that say I cannot pray.
At Mom and Dad’s home, where mom lives alone now, the waxy white orchids nod from their perch in a tree notch where I planted it years ago. It has survived the occasional freezing temperatures of Southwest Florida to dangle its many faces in the humid air while checking out the home health therapy professionals arriving to help Mom regain strength and balance. Conversations with the social worker at the nursing home as we labored through the process of getting Dad admitted to what is now his home. He still knows who we are, he knows I am one of his five children but my name has vanished under the crushing heels of dementia.
Only poetry has the power to evoke the intensity of my unexpected introduction into the world of senior homes, Do Not Resuscitate orders, Do Not Transfer, Certificates of Incompetency, Medicare rules, beleaguered nursing assistants cleaning, helping patients arrange themselves in and out of bed, delivering and removing meal trays, cleaning some more. The occasional smells that could knock your head off, the sun’s rays pouring into the room each morning, patients laughing as they throw giant balls to each other in therapy, the rows of wheelchairs lined up before a movie in the dining room. The Mardi Gras party, where we saw Dad smile for the first time since he arrived. I think only a poet, which I am not, could capture the images, the joys and the aches of this past month as my sisters and brother gathered for the first time in many years for the single goal of companioning our parents as they pick their way along a strange road in their 71 year life journey together.
Where do poems come from? How are they born? Because only the elegance of a poem has the power to capture the ache in mom’s eyes as she gazed at the living room recliner where dad used to sit to watch TV while she cared for him until she couldn’t any longer. Dad’s face lights up whenever Mom visits now, he only has eyes for her, and the fuzzy Teddy bear that now shares his nights, cuddled up with him against the bed rails.
It was, is, a tough time but as odd as it sounds, I am grateful to be on this roller coaster, this living, breathing poem, this wild ride we are all on. It’s great, if you don’t weaken.