In search of story


Vagaries in Gestation: November 28.16


Yesterday I drove to the park and, as always, slowed on the adjacent street, where little wiggly people are unloaded from back seats. A car at the curb had its doors open on the street side, so I stopped and waited.

A man stood at the side of the car, arm outstretched, helping someone out. Not a wiggly little person but a ponderously slow older person. A woman. Bundled warmly against the November day, she held his hand tightly. I caught only a brief glimpse of her but I knew. I knew those blank eyes and that empty face. I knew that slight curl inward. I couldn’t swallow because of the lump in my throat and I couldn’t see because of the tears. It all comes back so quickly.

I walked around the park and so did they. No. They did not walk. She moved her feet in that familiar shuffle, achingly slow, leaning hard on him. His baby steps described patience beyond words. Twice I noticed that they stood in embrace, she apparently clinging to him.

There was a slight wind, causing tears to run down my face. I tasted their salt and was grateful for the release.

Caregiving and dementia change people so I cannot say if he were husband or son, but I think son. I think the husband was at the playground with a little granddaughter, he seeking respite which isn’t because there is no respite from dementia. It is merciless in its constancy and as steely cold as the water in the creek.

I stood over the creek yesterday and thought about the cold water that runs through life and the daunting aloneness of those who stand firm in it.





Vagaries in Gestation



Connections: May 4


where time stops

where machines and tubes

beepings, flashing numbers

measure life

in lifeless pulse.

My chair once

sometimes my younger son’s

as we


for one fading generation

now my firstborn’s

as he waits

for me.


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Connections: November 8

An entire playground!

Does it matter?

Naturally not —

they want the same ladder.

At the same moment.

Because better than play

is sibling foment.

An album opens

in my head —

other siblings,

some long dead.

‘Twas ever thus:

siblings meant to feud and fuss.

Then years go agley

to entropy:

family, home, brain and bone.

One crumpled sibling stands alone

in hospital starkness

sleepless darkness.

Why is one

the caregiver daughter or caregiver son?



The match

“He looks good.”

As Dad’s caregiver, I became a tinderbox. Days and nights of heading him off at wrong turns, pulling him back from precipices, throwing him life preservers, and that is what I heard from people: “He looks good.” I wanted to yell in their faces “OF COURSE HE LOOKS GOOD! HE HAS A FULL-TIME DAUGHTER!” I was this close to combustion.

What does that mean, “he looks good”? Doesn’t it express some doubt that there is anything seriously wrong with him? Like you would know! You can’t SEE dementia! There is no rash, no swelling as outward sign. Dementia victims who are intelligent and socially skilled will hide it from you expertly. The caregiver sees it in behaviors behind walls, behind pretense, in deep daily ruts, in frightened eyes.

“He looks good.” Isn’t there an implication that I’ve been over-reacting? That I am flitting around him like some possessed moth and therefore the problem is in me and not in him? I noted that no one told me that I looked good. Were people implying that I was the sick one, and that Dad was fine?

Sparking flint, crackling tinder.

One day Dad and I were in a curtained alcove in the ER. He was angry about “the rude people at this party” and kept referring to me as “that young man.” A good, kind priest we knew happened by and spoke with me for a few minutes, looking over at Dad. “He looks good,” he said. Did I really want to strangle a good, kind priest? Yes, I did.

What is it with “he looks good”? Is there nothing else to say? Can no one hear the implications for the caregiver? Can no one smell the smoke?