A nice profile and review was published in the Valley Courier.
People have made movies about Alzheimer’s disease, written novels about it, and discussed treatment in medical journals. Now Jonathan Gillman has told the story of his father’s descent into Alzheimer’s in poetry in his new book, My Father, Humming. The book is poetry, but it reads like a narrative, enfolding the reader in the story as Gillman chronicles his father’s illness and its inevitable end.
“Music is a theme through much of the book-a thread that ties everything together,” he says.
The title of the book, as well as one of its poems, grew from a visit Gillman paid to his ailing father. Unlike his father, Gillman had not learned piano as a child but had taken it up as an adult. He played the great composers, but in his own fashion.
“I played the same notes [Bach and Beethoven] I heard as a child, but I make very different music. I play them much more slowly, at a different tempo than they are supposed to be played,” he noted.
By this time, his father could no longer speak, but he nonetheless expressed his displeasure at his son’s interpretations by beginning to choke.
“Not some feeble choking, but the ‘This is it, I am going to die variety.’ My first thought was to stop and go help him, but the nurse was there and there was nothing else to do so I kept playing and he kept choking. I heard the rattle in his throat,” Gillman recalls.
But then something else happened. The choking stopped and Gillman heard another kind of noise, softly at first.
“He was humming along with me and he kept humming and I kept playing-the two of us making music together until the end of the piece,” he says. The moment, Gillman recalls, was one of deep, unspoken, connection between him and his father.