I remember it like yesterday. Packed into the high school gym, staring with hundreds of other students at the symphony orchestra sitting silent in the center of the floor. A special assembly, an introduction to classical music by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The principal stepped to the microphone. We hushed. He paused, let his eyes wander over the young faces whose minds were mostly somewhere else. He spoke, “yesterday, we lost a beloved friend and teacher.” He briefly described how an older English teacher, a fixture at the school for generations, had suddenly passed away. We bowed our heads for a moment of prayer. Then the principal introduced the conductor. Milton Katims, a renowned musician and a wise, compassionate man, dedicated the opening piece to the memory of our lost teacher. He raised his baton and the tribute began. There was a strange quiet in the gym. Strange because a thousand high school kids were speechless. Samuel barber’s “Adagio for Strings” starts softly, with violins, violas, Cellos, and basses blending delicate harmonies around a simple theme. I looked around. All eyes were riveted on the musicians birthing the beautiful sounds. Sounds that crescendoed, louder and louder, to a final climax of heavenly ecstasy. Then, silence. I remember it like yesterday. Stunned. Crying. Blissed by the music of tears. tio stib You might enjoy this video.
walk with me
I hear her softly plead
walk with me
and so I rise and go
take the hand that isn’t there
feel the joy in her smile
the smile only my heart can see
hear the memory of her gleeful calls
her waves to passing children
as she scampers to greet them
faces glowing in the morning sun
a gentle breeze caresses us
sitting on our seaside bench
I kiss her tenderly
taste the love upon her lips
inhale the sweet scent of her soul
embrace the grace that made us one
touching the emptiness beside me
tears slide down my cheeks
walk with me
and I rise again
walking with my lover’s ghost
do I miss her laughing voice yes my heart cries out straining to hear her call in the silence do I miss the rose petal scent of her softness yes each breath aching to know her once more do I miss the way she tossed her hair her playful smile that said I’m beautiful do I miss her reaching out to take my hand to dance with me in blissful oneness yes always with every heartbeat but most of all I miss her whispering as her lips touched mine mio tio stib You might also enjoy: The Memory of a Single Rose; My Dementia Diary
holding the year’s last rose in her hand
whisked away on the first day of winter
gone forever on a cold December day
my head said it was for the best
said I could not give the care she needed
said I had to let her go
my heart said
I made tea
pretended I was strong
wondered why I could not hear her near me
why I felt so empty and alone
and I cried
cried hugging all the memories
cried as I walked with her
danced with her
cried sitting with her on the seaside bench
our faces kissed by the morning breeze
cried hearing her sing out to passing children
cried as I touched her sleeping softness
cried every day through the longest winter of my life
cried far into sunnier seasons
this morning, when I opened my eyes
I thought of her once more
and I smiled
“Where’s your wife?”
The grocery clerks, the drug store help, coffee shop baristas, deli servers, librarians, they all ask the same question. When I return now, alone, to the places we frequented together, they all expect to see the blind guy and his ever cheerful wife.
But she’s not there, so they ask,
“Where’s your wife?”
And I try to answer, tear up, reach out to hold her hand that isn’t there, start crying, because I’m asking the same question,
Where’s my wife?
Sorting through her things, my fingers find a shape I know.
a paper heart
A message from a far off place
I love you!
and there are more
she has left me a trail of hearts
with each new discovery
I hold her close
press her memory to my chest
because paper hearts are not enough
Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
As I listened to Joni sing about paving paradise, I realized I’ve recently lost two big things in my life.
Sex and fishing.
Fishing used to be my soul food, what I craved when life went sideways, dreams were slipping away, or I just needed a break from the human race. My typical fishing trip was an impetuous decision to get out of town, followed by tossing rod, clothes, and snacks into the car and heading out. I had some trusted spots and a mental list of obscure places on the map that had possibilities. I was often several miles down the road before a clear direction became obvious. Location really didn’t matter much, I just wanted to be standing alone in a stream, feeling the sun’s warmth on my face, filling my nostrils with the invigorating air of wildness, casting a fly towards some trophy fish fantasy.
One of the many blessings of our marriage is that my wife found fishing intoxicating too. I remember her excited squeals when she caught her first trout and her delighted giggles as she released it and watched it dart away. I remember looking past her at the backdrop of golden aspen leaves dancing in an azure sky, on a glorious fall day. I remember thinking this is as good as it gets.
Blindness ended such impetuous outings. In time, I found a guide who took the pair of us down a favorite river in his drift boat. It felt great to be on the water again, but I can’t pretend it was anything like before. Still, we enjoyed floating through a quiet world on a beautiful day, trying to wake fish who didn’t want to play. The tranquility was shattered when dementia struck and my wife’s mind melted down. She had to get out of the boat. Words could not calm her and the guide rowed us to shore.
We haven’t been fishing since.
Then there’s sex. We’ve been wonderful, passionate lovers, always open, always eager to please each other. With us, it just happens, a kiss, a touch, a fond embrace and love unfolds. But, recently, I noticed that, in spite of these triggers, nothing else was happening. The woman who once loved to play sexually was now a child who just wanted to be cared for. Dementia had stolen another part of the woman I love and the life we shared together.
My blindness has put such losses in perspective. I’d never expected to lose my sight and the experience was devastating. But I survived and, with the help of friends, learned to explore and appreciate all those things in life that can’t be seen. I also learned that things we treasure can disappear in an instant.
Do I miss sex? Heck yes, and I also miss my wife’s killer guacamole. But these things are not coming back so I need to be grateful for what we do have. She still loves to kiss and hug and she’s very good at it. She still makes my day on our walks when she rushes up to coo and smile at every baby we meet. She still holds my hand as we sit on our favorite bench on the beach and share the feelings of living in a beautiful world.
And fishing? Another tough goodbye, but the fly fishing rod that sat on a shelf by the door for three years waiting in vain to be taken away on another impetuous adventure is now in the hands of my new son-in-law who has a a matching passion. I expect some marvelous stories will be coming my way soon.
In case you’re a Joni Mitchell fan, here’s a link to “Big Yellow Taxi.”