Back in May 2013, 3 years after my parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my siblings and I decided to trial a month-long respite stay for both of them at a local memory care facility. We wanted to experience what it would feel like to have our parents placed in a long term care home so we would know, moving forward, whether that was an option we ever wanted to consider. Almost as soon as their stay began, Dad started suffering debilitating panic attacks that were equally unbearable to witness. We brought him home immediately. Momma, on the other hand, adjusted well to the social atmosphere of the community and seemed to be enjoying herself. We opted to continue her stay through the trial period. I wrote the following poem the morning after we brought dad home.
Cereal Bowls & Spoons
The confusion in Dad’s footsteps wakes me.
“Can you go check on Lou?”
falls deliriously from my mouth.
“He’s just up for his midnight snack,” Casey mumbles with equal exhaustion,
but he must catch it too then,
that pattering anxiety carrying through the floorboards,
because he’s quick to dress
and then drumming his own gentle footfall up the steps.
I don’t feel him next to me again for several minutes,
though when he does crawl back through the dark
to fold himself around me,
an ache has come over him.
I listen to it for a while with my body –
the sudden heaviness of his chest
bearing down against my spine –
then he tells me:
“I found him by the door
‘It’s unlocked! And Nancy’s not in her bed!’”
We’re both quiet for a moment.
The shared ache
a smothering fog
enveloping our quarter.
I realize that this might be Dad’s first night, in all their forty years, without her in their bed. Such disorientation transcends Alzheimer’s when you’ve slumbered side-by-side for so long.
But that criminal dementia keeps him from his bearings.
In the morning, he has set the table for two.
Cereal bowls and spoons –
like every morning for the past forty years.