Warm sun pools and shines more brightly in your home
Why is that?
worn beckoning rugs and life-soft chairs
a sentinel portrait
rich green and red dirt-colored artifacts nestled
within white walls of recent pain.
Witness dancing dust across
the bird in the kitchen,
your crazy dogs at play in the yard.
Most fairies here are somber yet
there is heart even joy
in those faces and those fucking cool guitars, Jesus,
and the tools, and the found things,
and the workshop, and the garage, and
in the art, art everywhere, far too content to be clutter
far more useful than things designed only for use.
The love here isn’t just palpable.
It knocks you down. It feels
like your missing tooth and bloody face
shining out from pure bliss.
It’s a sweet, well-caught ball at the fence.
Doors and windows shift widely open for these souls.
The one still walking the dogs, still finding community,
creating art here in person
and the one moving only in sunlight
guiding his strong gentle hands
then shifting to starlight to stroke his cheek
in the too-dark night.
That’s the thing about the sun at your house.
She’s still with you in grief and at 4 a.m.
That’s the thing about your art. It’s still with me
here in grief and at 4 a.m. as
I whisper “Thank you” to the darkness—
uncertain, still, about who…
which who is it
that I thank?
I move in the world a changed being now
today the yellow grass in the field up the hill is bowing to the rain
the sea and the land and the sky cede their colors into fog
passing waxwings eat red berries off the vine, laugh at the cat through the window
gray waves crash into the shore, laughing too
then there’s me
powerful and helpless beyond imagination
standing in the rain drenched
crying at the beauty of it all
respite is not a thing that we are given
respite is not a thing that we are given
respite is who we are right now
bowing to this moment together
it’s who we’re becoming together right now
in just allowing our selves to be
I was telling my neighbor how much I appreciate the multigenerational knowledge and friendship in our new (to us) neighborhood: a rare gift—at least in my world— people holding a 6-generation understanding of a place. He said he appreciated it too and also loves that he got to be alive in the 1960s: the last decade that our country had fully functional small towns where everybody made something, fixed something, shared something, and we weren’t dependent on big distant corporations and Dairy Queen back then.
My neighbor said that at his age he’s come to value the tribe here. What our political differences happen to be, matter far less now. What any of our divisive differences are, matter far less now. You become more curious, he said: What is this tribe here about? And what am I in this tribe? When you’re my age, he said.
And my age, I thought.
I mentioned that my parents just picked a town because it’s close to us, though thousands of miles from their heritage home. Plus there are three credit unions to choose from, which makes bank-hating dad happy, and a Subway sandwich shop, which makes mom, who has Alzheimer’s disease, happy. There she still knows the menu, ingredients, and the process plus she loves their raspberry white chocolate chip cookies. It’s one of the few restaurants left on earth in which she can relax, enjoy life. The neighborhood they picked has independent living cottages + assisted living + memory care: the trifecta of awesomeness from their new perspective that and there’s a Walmart just down the hill from their new place so they can easily get inexpensive prescriptions.
Lately I’ve been dropping the need to be sad or worried or mad about mom and dad’s radically different selves and priorities now. Together we’re fine most days. Beyond fine. I’ve lately been dropping my own need to hate Subway and Walmart: not that I’m a patron of either when mom and dad aren’t around (my ego would deeply like you to know).
Frankly, I’m in awe at the glorious simplicity of their lives now.
Where: small loving family + supportive neighborhood + nearby credit union + Subway + Walmart = pure contentment and peace
And I’ve been shifting into the growing simplicity of my own life.
Where: the universe giggles while a progressive, Walmart-hating daughter openly admits Walmart’s place in her own beloved parent’s current happiness.
The world is not as simple as we would like it to be.
it is simple here walking
talking with neighbors.
I love Alzheimer’s
when mom looks into my eyes
says “My baby girl. I love you.”
hugs me close
she lifts the world to my lips
pours gratitude through me
that names are dead
past is gone
old us drowned
we float happy here
no longer up to us to judge or fix others
fret about what we don’t have
who we aren’t
carry world weight
we are free together
every moment I let us be
so I let us be
becoming magic with her
1. The Question
Why do you feel the need to make the rift in our family all about your mom’s disease? You know too well that’s not the case at all.
damn good question
thanks for asking
2. The Life Raft
for 35 years I experienced our family as 98% love
2% occasional mild grouchiness
nobody’s perfect, yet
you guys are to me
for the next 9 years, every day
I listened, watched, did battle
as ALZ hacked away at mom and dad
I learned to accept powerlessness against it
that everything we’ve tried to help, will ever try, is shit
arranging knickknacks, dusting bookshelves on the Titanic
ALZ choked me, left me sobbing, sunk me, tried to drown me
burned me more times than I can count
it burned me bare
I’m burning still and here I am
the essential intact, still grateful
ALZ released the voice and the artist and the mother and the father in my sister and me
restored the mermaids
instead of drowning us it is releasing us from fear to become an entire ocean
returning more of our parents to us than we’ve ever known before
returning more of our planet to us than we could possibly have received before
as ocean, we can reimagine anything, even ALZ, as a Life Raft
as ocean, we’ve pushed away those who hurt us
we accept that we’ve pushed you away, we don’t blame you
as ocean, we’ve pulled toward us those who forgive and love us flaws and all
we accept that we’ve pulled some relatives closer, wrapping them around us
warm blankets and fuzzy socks on bitter nights
we accept your anger at abandonment as our own
So, livid cousin, devastated aunt, ghost uncles on whose behalf wicked-brave women speak to me
I am sorry for your pain and my part in it
I am sorry when you feel poetry as a cleaver in my hand or weight around your neck
I am sorry when you experience me as a basher of family
that is not my intent
and I honor what you feel
I’ll call myself a liar before I ever call you one
So why do I imagine ALZ as a Life Raft now? to hang on to you
while ALZ is taking mom and dad from me
as long as it holds its share of the blame for this extended family rift—holds my perspective too—
I don’t have to lose you.
I don’t have to lose you.
Maybe I have to lose you for a little while, while we heal the rifts within, but not forever.
Look again. At us. At what we’re saying. At who we are. Where we are.
You will always be within my we. This we…
We are not exiled. We are not silent. We are not helpless. We are not liars. We are not orphans. We are not bashers of family. We have not been cut in half. None of us. That’s our fear talking. Our fear. We are family.
We are poets and pilots.
We are parents and gardeners and farmers.
We are mermaids in matching pajamas.
We are the whole bloody ocean now.
When deeply wounded we can be cleavers.
We’re both more vulnerable and more powerful than ever.
Nobody’s perfect, yet
you guys are to me
3. Stupid Cleaver, You Missed Our Hearts Again
you meat cleaver
you hacker of brain and bone
you forest fire turning memory and limbs to ash
you can’t get at these hearts
Alzheimer’s disease you tried to exile us:
I struggle to understand how any of this is the family’s fault.
(So do I. You are still my family. Hope I’m still yours.)
Alzheimer’s disease you tried to accuse us:
When you write about our family and how many walked away, you know that’s not true.
(I walked away. Several of us did. We had to heal. We were bleeding. This is true for us. You are still our family. Hope we’re still yours.)
Alzheimer’s disease you tried to orphan and silence us:
Writing about family that chose to distance themselves. No one chose that. Everyone is reading it and in awe of the bashing.
(I chose distance to repair and rebuild my broken heart. So did my sister. Are we no one to you now? How is it that you still hear us and we still hear you?)
Alzheimer’s disease you tried to hack us clean in half:
Your writing is warm and loving. Hang on tight to those Berg traits.
(I cannot be divided. I can’t divide myself. Not even when people I love ask me to. ALZ taught me that. So did my family.)
Alzheimer’s disease you hack out my eyes, blinding me, my ears, deafening me, but somehow you keep missing my heart entirely:
Had lawyers and judges not been introduced to our family none of this would have happened and you know it. My God you make us seem like heartless people who abandoned you and that hurts more than anything. Her siblings would give anything to see her again and you’ve chosen to blog about what a bunch of assholes we are. When it all really comes down to that fucking court case.
(Yes. For you it comes down to that. My heart expanded to hold your truth when I allowed it to fully break. Yet even on the days you rage at me for being me, your love is still there. My broken heart sees yours. I am the last human on earth who would ever call you heartless. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, ragey. I’m so sad for our pain and loss that sometimes I have to step away to mend. But not today. Today I welcome your pain and rage. I envelop it. I am pain and rage now. Pain is my guide. Rage is my bitch. So bring it. All of it. I will withstand your pain and your rage. I will hug you tighter for them when I next see you. I expect you’ll do the same. We are not made of such fragile stuff as we imagine, you and I.)
Alzheimer’s disease you turned me into a writer of sad and dreary form letters:
Dear [insert another family member who I love here], I’m disconnecting from you for a year. I hope we can reconnect again later on. I learned today that the poem I wrote yesterday devastated you. I am sorry about that, it wasn’t my intent. I am angry at a disease, and my own powerlessness in the face of it to stop it from destroying my parents. Rage is part of that. Rage is part of me now. This is me now. But blame isn’t. I’m not angry at you guys. I don’t hate you. I don’t blame my family. I love you. For my own health, and my sister’s, I need to write about our experience of Alzheimer’s disease. Disconnecting temporarily allows me to do that without inadvertently hurting you again. If you need me for anything urgent this year, you can reach me at ____________. I look forward to reconnecting again in the future. I love you. – Lori
Alzheimer’s disease, you fucking jerk
you made me the cleaver
there goes another of my precious limbs
as your arms tire
day by day
release into me
drop cleavers in
sink blood-weary hands ever deeper
I have all the time in the world
I am ocean
we are mermaids
no leg to stand on among us
those who cried this ocean with me
you are my life raft
my only way
so many empty plates
dishes piled high
corks found in corners
what did I do?
beside stained counters
trash overflows its cans
and there’s pure audacity in that recycle bin
what will the neighbors think?
candles broke their dams
poured beyond imagined boundaries
fell asleep together
in self-chosen shapes
the flowers are relaxing too
hoping to get lucky
their bravest petals off
exploring table tops
while tired balloons hover
they drift in settled, happy air
and find content in stillness
it was easy
to love the party
it’s easier still
to love the morning after