Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn! – Kalidasa (recited to me by Pam)
I work part time for an organization which provides “companion care” to seniors, many of whom have physical challenges, most of whom have dementia, or “memory” issues.
My new client today was Pam. A lovely woman whose husband, her full time caregiver, needed a break. Pam is an interesting, talented woman, who was an accomplished sailor, skier, and water color artist until her memory started to fade. She needs companion care because she cannot remember to eat, gets lost, and forgets what she is doing. But she can talk, and reminisce, and reflect.
We talked a lot. About her children. About her painting, and sailing, and skiing. She told me how she lived in Colorado as a young woman, and how happy she was. I asked why, and she said, “Because I was free!” I asked if she went to church. She said no, something the priest said at her mother’s funeral made her quit the church, and she never looked back. We looked at photos, ate lunch, and talked some more. I told her I had brought my mother’s poetry book, and asked if she would like me to read her some poems.
She sat back on the couch, feet up. I joined her. One of the poems ends, “You’ll see – I’m still me”, and she exclaimed, “That is exactly it! I AM still me! But my mind will not let me be my old self.” I kept reading, and she asked often to have passages reread, passages she could relate to. Like the fear she feels: “FEAR! This thing that envelops me like a cloud, Keeps me frozen in place, wrapped in a shroud.”
At one point she said, “Will I ever get used to this?” I knew she meant this new mind of hers, the one that was not cooperating when she was trying to navigate to the bathroom, or to find a word. The mind that kept her away from her beloved sailing. I answered, “I don’t know.” Because I don’t know.
She said, “I am looking around the room, and I am surrounded by all my paintings. And that makes me so glad. It makes me feel…important.”
My part in giving peace today was to read to Pam, to listen to her stories, and to laugh with her. To let her know that she can have some peace in knowing that someone is always there to take care of her. That she is important. That she matters. I wish I could give her the peace that says she will get better, or the peace that lies in the knowledge that she’ll get used to this decline.
Perhaps the peace lies in the memories, the children, the husband, her beloved parents, the sailing, the young woman in Colorado who was free.
Let it Be
I cried, I moaned, I begged, I pleaded –
Please give me the strength I needed.
Give me courage to face each day,
Even in the darkest times, help me find a way
To move ahead and not look back,
To find the things I treasure, not the ones I lack.
And when some memory recalls some deed or glory,
Let me look back with pride, instead of feeling sorry.
And so, God, with the answers you have given me
Please give the strength to let it be.
By Jean Wegner
“Poetry in Slow Motion: Navigating Parkinson’s Disease”