In regards to the poems that make up My Father, Humming, people say, “It must have been difficult to write these poems about Alzheimer’s disease,” and they comment that they are so candid and honest.
Actually, writing the poetry was “easy.” What was hard was doing all the work so I could write the poems: being honest with myself. Thinking about my father—what it was like growing up with him—what I was like as a father, things like that. But also accepting: this is where he is now, with dementia. Nothing about him is going to change. And no one can ever change the past.
I didn’t think it at first, but when you’re dealing with a past you don’t like, you have two choices: to stay angry about it; or do what you can—which, in this case, meant accepting it.
That’s who he was, with or without Alzheimer’s.
Lots of people have talked about how hopeful and positive My Father, Humming, is—its poems about dealing with death, individually and, especially, overall, provide the kind of healing one might hope to hear during a funeral reading or memorial service.
The book deals with maybe the hardest thing there is, the slow decline and death of someone very close from something inevitable and unchangeable. There are grieving poems and bereavement poems, and they are about losing a loved one. But the book deals with this sometimes with humor, and always with love.
My relationship with my father before Alzheimer’s had not always been good—in fact, just before his death, it was awful, and I went months without speaking to him. There was his need to be right, and to make everyone else do what he knew was right. And there were lots of places where who I was collided with that. I was pretty angry at him—for seeing himself, but not seeing, or (I felt) respecting, me.
In the process of writing this book, I let go of that anger. I was able to accept my father—what he had been, and what he was becoming. To learn how to cope with both his Alzheimer’s disease and death, I began writing.
One woman after a reading said, “That is so hopeful and positive. If you can do that, all of us can. Maybe we don’t—we don’t make the effort—but you are showing us it is possible.” I don’t think dealing with loss or the passing of a loved one can ever be easy, nor do I think people grieve in the same ways; but I do think that My Father, Humming is a record of how to cope with the loss of a loved one. Writing these poems has made dealing with death feel a little less impossible for me.