Tag Archives: stroke recovery

“Why Don’t People Write More Poetry?”

Why I Wake Early book cover by Mary Oliver

That’s the question my friend G. asked me today. She’s just a few years older than me and has had a dozen strokes; the doctors don’t know why. She struggles with words — fidgets with her hands as if trying to create  words out of invisible clay — and her short term memory is shot. But she gets poetry.

During my visit today, I brought along “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver, the poet known for revealing the marvelous in her minute observations of nature. For some reason, I’d dog eared the poem “October.” When I started to read it, I immediately thought I’d made a mistake. It’s written in seven numbered sections with abstract imagery in which Oliver seems to hover above a scene. Gail was intrigued, had me read it seven times. As she listened she closed her eyes, enraptured.

When I read “Peonies,” she picked up on the phrase “beauty the brave,” and repeated it over and over. That one we read three times. Then “Goldenrod.” She loved the language of it, the assonance of “rumpy bunches,” the alliteration of “dumb dazzle.” She rolled the phrases around in her mouth like marbles. I don’t know how many times we read that one.

When I read her the last few lines, in which the goldenrods “bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,/they rise in a stiff sweetness/in the pure peace of giving/one’s gold away,” I told her that she has gold to give — her unfettered love and sense of humor. Though her abilities have changed, her value has not. If anything she is more cherished than ever by those who love her.

We almost didn’t make it past the first line of “Blue Iris”: Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?

Each time I started down the 15-line poem, she laughed and stopped me.

Why don’t more people write poetry, or at least read it?



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Knitting a Friendship

knitting screen shot

How do you write about a period when nothing much happened?

Although my years with Dad included many health crises, most of the time things were quiet. Our days were predictable, from the first click that indicated the release of the brakes on Dad’s walker as he rose, to a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, our daily walk, a convivial glass of wine during the cocktail hour, and finally chocolate cake following dinner.

When I look back upon my seven years as a caregiver, what I remember most are our conversations. I talked and he listened. I asked questions and waited while he patiently searched his memory banks before responding. Hardly the stuff of reality television.

Earlier today, I got around to reading an email that my friend, Ellen, recently forwarded from Daily Good. I’ve never been a big fan of the “Chicken Soup for…” genre and I made the mistake of thinking this was more inspiration from a can.

It turned out to be a lovely little story in which the author remembers his grandfather’s eye surgery. He was 12 and tasked by the family with translating for the grandfather and spending time with him as he recovered. During the hours they passed by playing chess, the grandfather told stories. When other patients asked if they could “borrow” the boy, he asked his grandfather for permission. He recalled, “He told me that the opportunity to listen to others was a mutual blessing, both for the narrator as well as the listener.”

Today I spent time with a friend who is recovering from a series of life-threatening strokes. I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoy my time with her. Even though her short term memory is impaired, her wisdom is intact. She asks the thoughtful questions she always has, listens with great attention, and offers her rare brand of insight. I read the Daily Good piece to her, including this observation from the writer, Jalees Rehman, now a cardiologist:

All humans want to be narrators, but many have difficulties finding listeners. Illness is often a time of vulnerability and loneliness. Narrating stories during this time of vulnerability is a way to connect to fellow human beings, which helps overcome the loneliness. The listeners can be family members, friends or even strangers.

My friend loved it. What she said was even more profound:

You listen to me, and I listen to you. That must be because we’re knitting. I must need some things you have and you must need some things I have. We are making something new. We need understanding. It’s the hardest things for humans to understand what’s happening. When I have a friend like you and (her husband), you make meaning.

That’s what we’re doing. Knitting a friendship from the yarn of our former selves. Just by being together.

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