WHEN THE GEARS START SLIPPING…

I’m going to start this post by saying that my mom is fine, as sharp and independent as ever.  Because when I read this poem for people, they approach me afterward and tell me they’re sorry to hear that, or share stories about their own caregiving struggles.  These lines are a patch-work of tales told to me by my patients, family, friends and neighbors about the challenges and heartbreaks of looking after someone with dementia.  This poem (a triolet series) goes out to all the caregivers:

CAREGIVER’S SONG

Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without,
even in the hottest weather
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater
I save my breath and don’t upset her
unless her pants are inside-out
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without

Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate
Ignoring vegetables and meat
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
But how her eyes light up for sweets,
a dish of ice cream, piece of cake
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate

Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair
Since her mind went on vacation,
Mom makes lively conversation
with her long-deceased relations
as if they were sitting there
Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair

Mom pores over family pictures,
staring at a toddler’s face
Who is this?  she points and whispers
Mom pores over family pictures
A childhood me with my big sister
Precious memories gone, erased
Mom pores over family pictures
staring at a toddler’s face

Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly,
certain they are men she knows
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
Bosses, neighbors, high school beaus,
not Hollywood celebrities
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly

At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed
Unsure where she is, I think,
at night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
A spectre in pajamas pink
shuffles through the house instead
At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed

I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock
Despite exhaustion, tears, and stress
I care about Mom’s happiness
No time to breathe or decompress
or take a walk around the block
I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock

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26 thoughts on “WHEN THE GEARS START SLIPPING…

  1. Peter Klopp May 13, 2018 / 8:40 am

    Caring for Mother no matter how depressing her condition may be is your wonderful message of love, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 13, 2018 / 8:54 am

      Thanks, Peter. The poem is really an inside look into the caregiver’s world. So often, we focus on the sick person, and the physical and emotional labor of caregiving goes unrecognized. Family members caring for their parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses. Even nurses, aides, and home care folks who do this demanding job day in and day out. Kudos to them all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tippy Gnu May 13, 2018 / 9:26 am

    Did I ever ever tell you you are my favorite poet? Anyway, these verses really capture the caregiver’s world, in my view. It’s exhausting work, and emotionally draining. It’s difficult to see someone who was once strong and mentally sharp go downhill in such a way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 13, 2018 / 10:28 am

      Thanks, Tippy. Caregivers are all but invisible, working their magic from behind the scenes. Even in this poem, you are so drawn in by Mom’s antics that you almost forget her caregiver is also living through it. Trying to get Mom dressed, fed, medicated, entertained, tucked in, etc, on days when she doesn’t cooperate or even know who you are, it’s a hard and thankless job sometimes. You live for those little lucid moments, hugs, stories she remembers from seventy years ago even though she doesn’t know what day it is or what she ate for breakfast. Have a great Sunday. Blessings on you and your wife for taking such good care of Jake in his final days. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 13, 2018 / 12:32 pm

      Thanks, Marissa. The struggle is real, but sometimes the caregiver is rewarded with a sweet, touching moment or a bit of humor. 🙂

      Like

  3. Anacrazyfuturewriter May 13, 2018 / 11:01 am

    Extremely well-written! I have attempted the Triolet before, and I certainly found it challenging to write, so it’s amazing how you’ve managed to follow the form perfectly for multiple stanzas!

    Of course, I can’t hope to compare, but I would love to get your thoughts on my ‘Triolet’. The form is imperfect (I went astray when I was writing XD), but I hope you like it.
    https://poeticaparadisum.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/twinkling-stars-triolet/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. chevvy8 May 13, 2018 / 1:26 pm

    Joan you are so accomplished at handling different forms of poetry while still getting your message across. I though this was a fitting poem for mother’s day. Though I have never been exposed to anyone with dementia, the technique of repeating everything illustrates the symptoms of dementia so well. Yes, you are drawn to the patient but you’ve done justice I think to what it must be like for the caregiver and what love and commitment and energy would be required to do this work.

    Have a blessed day Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 13, 2018 / 1:45 pm

      Thanks, Chevvy. Mothers are our first and most generous caregivers, so it’s only fair we return the favor if and when needed. The repetitive lines of the triolet seemed fitting, both in the sense of the dementia and the repetition of the caregiver’s daily chores and frustrations. The overall health of the US population has declined in the past century–we eat genetically modified pesticide-treated crops, we don’t exercise or sleep enough, we kill ourselves with stress… Caregiving has become our national pastime–for disabled and autistic kids, maladjusted and eating-disordered teens, spouses and family members psychologically impaired by PTSD, depression, and drug addiction. Among those over 50, cancer and dementia are virtual epidemics. Nursing homes and home care aides are booming businesses. My grandparents were healthy and functional well into their elder years, a lot has changed in just one or two generations. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  5. K E Garland May 14, 2018 / 3:44 pm

    I like this format Joan, and the poem is a very nice portrayal that seems to aptly describe older people who suffer from dementia and the like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 14, 2018 / 4:12 pm

      Thanks, KE. The form seemed to fit the subject matter. All of the behaviors described are common with dementia, although they can fluctuate from day to day and even minute to minute. And dementia is only one of the many illnesses a caregiver might have to deal with. You do the crucial things and settle for “good enough” on the rest, like allowing inside-out pants and cake for breakfast. Have a good week! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. L. T. Garvin, Author May 14, 2018 / 9:55 pm

    This is really a good poetic summation of what caring for a loved one with dementia is like. It was so sad to read. I cared for my mother, but she didn’t suffer from dementia. It is so hard to see our parents decline, I understand that it must be so, a journey that we all take, but it is still very difficult. I often think that I will suffer from dementia because I have always played the sleep deficit game, and they say that not sleeping adequately is one thing that could possibly lead to it. I definitely think life was better for humans back in the older days. Beautiful poem, Joan. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 15, 2018 / 9:29 am

      Thanks, Lana. If I had my choice of declining physically or mentally as I get older, I’d pick physically. But with advancing dementia, I suppose I wouldn’t be aware of what I’d lost or have to grieve it. Both are hard, though. Research is so inconclusive about what causes dementia and how to prevent it, but there is something (or maybe many things?) about modern living that contributes to it. Just live the healthiest lifestyle you can and hope for the best. Stress less, sleep more, eat blueberries and other antioxidant foods, do puzzles, all of that is great advice whether it helps or not! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. T. Garvin, Author May 15, 2018 / 5:08 pm

        Well, the good news here is that I’m a blueberry freak! I had Lumosity (a brain game for devices) downloaded on my phone but it wouldn’t work correctly probably because my Samsung Galaxy phone is older. Having games on the cell phone is convenient when stuck in line or waiting for appointments. I may need to see what else is available. Great post, my friend. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Quirky Girl May 17, 2018 / 3:09 pm

    “Mom can’t follow TV shows,
    but ogles actors shamelessly,
    certain they are men she knows”

    On a bright note, it certainly sounds like Mom had some delightful times in her life if she intimately knew (whether in reality or fantasty) so many famous TV studs… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 17, 2018 / 3:28 pm

      Thanks, Quirky. Must be nice to live in a world where every man from your past was Bold and Beautiful or hosted The Price is Right. Maybe dementia won’t be as bad as I think. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nancy May 19, 2018 / 12:11 am

    A beautiful poem. I am paralyzed and my husband is my caregiver. He is 79. It is difficult for him at times. You have expressed beautifully in your poem the love your mother, the struggles of being a caregiver, the compassion and strength it takes mentally and physically, as well as the poignant lost memories, etcetera. Thank you for sharing. It really touched my heart and encouraged me and my husband’s and my situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 19, 2018 / 10:00 am

      Thanks, Nancy. Caregiving is hard but it’s hard to be the one needing help, too. Glad your husband has the spirit and stamina to do what you need. People are always happiest in their own homes, surrounded by their own things and their memories. Prayers and love to you both.

      Like

  9. She's a Maineiac May 22, 2018 / 9:37 am

    This poem really hit home. My gram used to live with us for years and suffered from Alzheimer’s so we had to take care of her. She was a brilliant woman, but had forgotten how to eat or use the bathroom. My mom did everything she could, but it was overwhelming to say the least.

    Now my own mom is nearing the same fate and it is heartbreaking, the loss I feel and the loss she must feel. that’s why we try to hold onto any sliver of memory we can so we can share that bond while it lasts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 22, 2018 / 10:23 am

      Sorry to hear about your Gram, Maineiac. Dementia is a beast, whether you have it or take care of someone who does. Bless you for helping your mom with her Correctol and rice cakes and eggs. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish dementia-type disorders from the normal forgetfulness of aging. Doctors can help with the diagnosis, but there is little they can do or prescribe to reverse or forestall it. You live right next door (which could still be a mile or two in Maine!) so that’s a plus. Your mom still has her spunkiness and sense of humor (those are usually the first things to go). She doesn’t drive, so at least you won’t have to wrest her keys away from her. Finances are a biggie–keep an eye out for unpaid bills or overdraft notices from the bank. Impaired elderly folks are prone to writing checks for money they don’t have and also, sadly, they are targets for many financial scammers. Good luck to you, Darla. Love the plaid coffee mug! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • She's a Maineiac May 22, 2018 / 11:18 am

        All solid advice, thank you. She lives in the same house as I do (it’s a duplex) so that helps. My older brother is monitoring some of her finances, but I am afraid of her writing out checks when she isn’t clear on her bank account. Sigh….

        Liked by 1 person

  10. circumstance227 July 9, 2018 / 5:52 pm

    The form is perfect for the subject matter here – the repetitiveness really reflects the experience – I think for the patient as well for the caregiver. There is a musicality to it too that I like. I’ve seen with my own eyes how Alzheimer’s patients respond to music, suddenly perking up, sometimes remembering words to songs they sang over and over in younger years. Another great poem, 42.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan July 9, 2018 / 7:51 pm

      Thanks, 227. This poem was originally just one stanza, the one about Mom talking to the kitchen chair. The rest was added later. Have you ever seen the documentary Alive Inside? It’s about the effect of music therapy on Alzheimer’s patients, really amazing. 🙂

      Like

      • circumstance227 July 10, 2018 / 4:24 am

        I’ve seen this in action. A musician friend’s mother was very far along in the disease and no longer recognized him. She could hardly speak. He would start playing a song on the piano and she perked up and sang along. That is how they communicated.

        Liked by 1 person

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