For the longest time, my father fought the idea of getting older—of not being the man he had been. Even as he was clearly declining with Alzheimer’s, he kept insisting that if he ate certain vitamins, did other things, he would be an exception.
Somewhere in his physical decline, when there were so many things he could no longer do, when he had to accept the indignity of wearing a diaper and having someone else change him—to see, and to know, what he was no longer capable of—he let go of his notions of immortality: death was going to happen to him, too.
And when he became accepting of that aspect of himself, he became much more accepting of others. Even with dementia, he was kinder and gentler, a nicer person to be around. He began to accept what he could not control.
Many of us go through life trying to control things. In reality, there is not a lot we can control. Maybe we have some control over the small details, but not the big picture. We certainly don’t have control when someone gets Alzheimer’s disease, or when it is time to say goodbye to a loved one.
We are all going to die. We can live as well as we can, but we can’t change, or control, our own mortality.
We can’t do much when a loved one starts declining with something like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
If we keep trying to control what we can’t, we get frustrated. Nothing turns out the way we want it to.
A lot of the grieving process that led to the writing of My Father, Humming, was, for me, about letting go of control. Just as I can’t change the direction the wind is blowing, or make it blow more, or less, there was little I could do about the state my father was in, or about his decline with Alzheimer’s.
The one thing I could do was to accept that—to let go of trying to control it. Really doing that brings a lot of freedom with it, a lot of calmness and ease—even peace. Sometimes, it can even feel spiritual. If we accept what we cannot change, we can enjoy the moments along the way. Being with the person while they are sleeping, having my father still recognize me even with dementia, having his hand search in the air for mine; these are all things I will remember. Because of these moments, I can come to peace with it.
What I came to from the process of letting go, what I feel I have put into the book, and what other people seem to get from it, is that sense of peace, and of peacefulness about losing a loved one.
I accepted this about my father. I have also accepted that it’s going to happen to me, one way or the other, and it may be in this way. I don’t want it to be; I hope it’s not, and hope it’s not for a while. I’m going to do what I can in that regard. But I think I have also accepted that it will happen how it will happen. And about that I feel peace—peacefulness—serenity. And I hope others feel that from the book too. These stories illustrated by these poems can be sad, but I hope they can also be uplifting to read when remembering and honoring a loved one.
Most parents do the best they can. There are always things they do that we, their children, are not happy about.
This is a book about a loved one’s declining memory, death, handling grief, and dealing with the death of a parent, but it’s also about life. It’s about the cycle of life—of being a child; then being a parent, and seeing that same cycle continue in your children, and in theirs.
It’s about loving that cycle. And also, loving the people who are your family. You only get one of them, and you don’t get a lot of choice in the matter. What you can choose is how to deal with things not fully to your liking. Being loving and positive always seems like a good way, even throughout the mourning process.
An Amazon customer review actually said that, “Gillman’s poems show us that, if we can manage to stay emotionally present, the demise of a loved one paradoxically offers a unique and gratifying opportunity for intimacy and connection. Loving kindness and compassion are always great guides when we have no map or compass for the rocky roads of life.”