Since writing about my dementia dilemma, I have given considerable thought to the current process of exercising my mind. Because my communication skills are still good, I decided to go out of my comfort zone and exercise my mind in a new way: I will stretch it as I try my hand at writing poetry. (Note: Poetry has been an avenue for me to deal with the most stressful times of my life. I have not really written any for thirty years or more.)
To begin, I started to read poetry. Shortly, I came across my favorite poet, Langston Hughes. I used to teach an entire unit to my fourth and fifth graders using his poetry. I found his use of dialect in some of the poems to produce a most beautiful sound. The students and I loved to read it and even tried to write some of our own. One of his finest examples, in my opinion, is a mother explaining the hardships in life to her son:
Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
(If you read my blog No Need To Fret (Written With Some Twang), you'll notice that I have already tried using my own dialect in prose.)
Reading poetry allows me to leave my world of dementia to travel down the paths followed and felt by others. Sometimes, the path will be one which is challenged by the difficulties of others. These poems especially help me to deal with my situation today. It helps me to put into perspective where I am, who I am, what I am. Reading these poems helps me to define the strengths I do have. The promise. It allows me to put behind me those unkind, unthinking people who do not understand dementia...and me. Poetry strengthens my life.
Perhaps poetry could strengthen the lives of those with dementia/Alzheimers. Perhaps caregivers could read poetry to their loved ones...try to get them to talk about what they hear, what they feel. Even the most basic discussion could be helpful. The poem may remind the loved one or the reader of something in the past, a subject or time which has not been talked about in a long time. Since the past is most often remembered, that would be a good place to go... Of course, the type of poetry would depend on where the loved one is functioning at the moment. There are wonderful poets who write light-heartedly, like Shel Silverstein. These poems are fun. Perhaps they would be a good place to start. And even if the loved one with dementia/Alzheimer's cannot talk about the poem, just listening to the rhythm (and maybe rhyme) may prove to be soothing...