In his Field Notes, “Tell Me A Story: Using Narrative History with Older Patients” (Spring 2014), Dr. Chris Frank addresses the role of geriatric patients’ narratives as a source of satisfaction for clinicians. But what happens to those patients for whom narrative has become a long lost ability? My mother spent the last five years of her life in a slow descent into vascular dementia that eventually robbed her of coherent speech. At the beginning of her decline, I would show her a favorite black and white photograph. She and my father, arms around each other, lean into Lake Erie’s wind. They are zippered up in matching leather jackets. Once more she tells me the story of where they bought the jackets, how my father was drafted into the Navy the following month, and that she worked in a munitions plant for the remaining years of World War II. When I show her the same photograph three years later, she asks, “Who are those people?” I bring her the leather jacket that hung in the spare room closet at my house. We stroke the jacket’s butter soft leather. I recount how I dressed up in her jacket in college in hopes that the costume would give me an air of mystery and attract the mate of my dreams. She shakes her head. I am not sure what she means. Bits of leather melt to the floor. I ponder the practicality of restoration. In my poem Assisted Living Lullaby, I describe a marital relationship in which a wife who suffers from dementia can still enjoy the touch of her husband’s hand and the music of his piano playing. Although she is no longer able to express how she feels, her husband still knows. Hopefully her doctor tries to understand as well.
Ellen Sazzman has recently been published in Moment, Comstock Review, Beltway Quarterly, Common Ground, CALYX, and Poetica, among others. She was a winner of the 2016 Moving Words Poetry Competition and a finalist in the 2010 Split This Rock poetry contest. Sazzman, who is is a mother, grandmother, and retired lawyer living in Maryland, received Northern Virginia Review’s 2012 outstanding poetry award, a Pushcart nomination from Bloodroot Literary Magazine, and honorable mentions in the Anna Rosenberg poetry contest.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine