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Special Concerns for Women

I am my Mother's Keeper


Each of us, puny as we are, can be viewed as trying to distill our own poem, to make our own sense of being take on shape and structure, out of the indifferent elemental processes we call life. For Momma and me, Alzheimer's disease is our particular instance of the metaphor in this opening poem from my book, Decent Intentions:

poems are cruel
to poets, people
weak and strong

their birth is
labor women scream

their sense, bone terror
in a soldier

poems lack tact and secrets
they are innocent of mercy
with a tyranny to kill
all arrogant defiance

pity, then, we humans
born in ignorance, and finite:
deprived of sight and sound and tongue

driven by a poem

Momma is driven by the poem of her particular spirit, and committed to it. Every day she rages against the dying of the light. It is amazing to look at the very skeleton of a personality, of a soul...no...it is awesome and rather terrifying, for it attests to the loss of the basic tool of human intercourse--the mask. Alzheimer's disease is stripping Momma of the ability to dissemble and disguise that creates our private selves and fosters civility. As a result, her communications and actions reveal the bare bones of her character, not the careful image we are generally at pains to present to others. 

Momma is a humble person. I could see all the negatives of that before: lack of self-esteem (buzz, buzz), martyr complex, fear of rejection and failure. I thought those were the reasons she buried herself in this hick town with my wicked stepfather and the seven little steps. Maybe so. Maybe more so her humility stems from her awareness of transcendence, i.e., of knowing herself to be a span in the generational bridge that brings human beings over to something above instinctual life. Perhaps she knows intrinsically the worth of her life's work; therefore, no New York ego required. 

The way she is playing the end game she must eventually concede is another of her gifts to me. Her mother often said, "We teach by precept and example." And so Momma does. Plagued by incomprehension and deprived of the intellectual activities that were her calling and her pleasure, she continues to synthesize meaning from people and events, and to shape me by her steadfastness into a person more understanding, kinder, than I want to be. 

Companion Pages:  1  2  3  4 

Written by: Judy Simmons
Last revised: March 2005

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