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How Long…?

“How long has your mother had Alzheimer’s?

“I don’t know…“ I reply,

it wasn’t like turning a corner

and there it was
but we had hints
a decade or more ago–
I remember…

–Mother forgetting to write down checks she wrote
–unpaid bills stacked with piles of junk mail in Harry and David’s Fruit of the Month Club boxes under her bed,

–prescriptions irregularly taken, not remembering whether she had or hadn’t
–more anger in her judgements of other people
–her open mind getting stiffer, like an aging muscle
–trouble sleeping when she’d hear hammering or music no one else heard, dreams crossing over to reality

–tales of a woman coming in and leaving messages on the clock, telling her to do things she didn’t want to do,
a woman who would be knocking at the door to come in

–telling us in the morning she’d spent the night in the woods
–loaning and giving money to a rascal she took under her wing, snapping at any neighbor or family member who criticized him, appliances disappearing from our house to his

–disengaging from her beloved politics, not remembering who Al Gore was or her treasured ride with him to a political rally years before, pushing him to push C-Span with the local cable company

–cooking less and less,

like a cloudy dusk when you don’t notice
just when day turns to night,
facts piled up, something was wrong,
and then the weight of the facts tipped the scales,

her doctor ventured it was probably early Alzheimer’s,

then the psychiatrist at the Geriatric Assessment Program at Baptist Hospital
pronounced the verdict to us,
but cautioned not to tell her,
I did anyway, gently,
while she still had a chance to understand a little bit
what was happening to her,
I thought she deserved the truth,

I remember going into her room one time later on,
and she fussed “they” wouldn’t let her get up to go to the bathroom,
I told her she hadn’t been walking for months,
she frowned and announced either
she was crazy or we were,

sometime day turned to night
and I don’t know when.

by Henry Walker
September 2, 2001

Slipping Away

Names go
the verbal hands
with which we hold
through which we manipulate,
relationships get fuzzy
places unfamiliar
memories hide away,
fade out
fade in,
slip again.

by Henry Walker July 5, 1999

Two Worlds Claim Her

talking with your mother
and it’s like
she speaks a language you understand,
part of the time,
the words, the concepts, the memories ringing true and clear
to the reality you know and (sort of) understand,
and then she speaks another language
you get the words and part of the concepts
but what’s real for her
doesn’t intersect with what you can yet know,

she’s walking in two worlds
so she’s only half here
and she keeps trying to make sense
out of the disjoint
to connect what cannot be connected,
so she’s torn between
beating herself up for her failings
and attacking us for how we’re punishing
her since we’re filled with more power
than she feels she has,
we could fix it if we but would,

and all I can do
is love,
and keep making empathic leaps
that can never quite get to the other side,
thank goodness,
for it’s not yet my time to cross over.

by Henry Walker April 5, 1999