Oct 6, 2013

As Long As You Want

I was reflecting on the realization that when I allowed my mother to set the pace – whether in walking, in speaking, in eating – she was much more content.

 By Pamela R. Kelley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

As Long As You Want | Alzheimer's Reading Room

Most mornings when I arrive at the door to my mother’s apartment in her assisted living facility, Mom is sitting in her easy chair looking out the window or sorting through her purse.

I turn on my high beam smile and I knock on the door frame until I catch her gaze.

“Hello, hello!” is our opening line.

“Hi Honey,” Audrey says.

A bit later she adds, “Sit down here,” pointing to the chair next to her own. I sit beside her and take her hand and lean in to kiss her cheek. Her pleasure at my company is palpable. My happiness to be able to bring her this pleasure can’t be denied.

“Can you stay with me?” she asks without fail.

“Yes,” I reply while nodding my head. “As long as you want,” is my standard reply to her careful and repeated question, “Can you stay?”

We’ve repeated this, day after day, for a couple of years now. It’s our reliably pleasing opening to the many hours we spend together.

I know it’s important to start the day off on the right foot. Some days are better than others, but every morning I look forward to those first few moments and to setting the right tone for whatever might come next.

Catching her eye. Watching her smile slowly appear. Feeling her tiny, bony hand in my warmer, fleshier one.

A while ago, on my drive to Mom’s place, I heard a poem recited on the radio. It was about our lives – no mistaking it.

I had to pull off to the side of the road, close my eyes and listen. Perhaps you’ll recognize a bit of your lives in this poem by Ron Spaletta.

Blank Villanelle

As long as you want
almost never is
as long as you want,

or it is much longer.
He will not live
as long as you want,

but his forgetfulness
will last as long as memory,
as long as you. Want,

at once desire and privation,
is the work of his disease.
As long as you want

him, you return to watch hours
unravel. Are they hard as yours,
as long? As you want

o let go of the ghost,
you say "but I'll stay
as long as you want,
as long as you want."

I contacted the poet, asking permission to reprint Blank Villanelle in Alzheimer’s Reading Room. He answered immediately, granting permission in a thoughtful reply.

He wrote about visiting his grandfather who was profoundly forgetful in the same way our loved ones are. His poem was inspired by his grandmother’s “quiet heroism and devotion” in caring for his grandfather.

In the earliest days of caring for my mother, when she still lived with me, I penned an entry in my journal entitled “Pacing”. I was reflecting on the realization that when I allowed my mother to set the pace – whether in walking, in speaking, in eating – she was much more content.

It was a challenge to me to give up the control of the pace of things, to allow them to unfold according to her timetable rather than my far more accelerated one.

When I gave that up, and matched her slow rhythms, our experience of one another was happier.

Unspoken, it became clear as I slowed to match her pace in life. How much time did we have?

As long as you want, Mom.

*Pamela R. Kelley is the full-time caregiver for her mother. She lives, works and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.
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