Poet Donald Hall died. His poem “Affirmations” is one that is on my mind today. My mother has dementia, and with it comes moments of anger and aggression that she no longer anticipates or remembers moments after they pass. Instead, I try to focus on the times she shines, as she did recently in the hospital, telling every nurse and doctor what a wonderful place it was and how kind everyone was to her.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“Your hair is beautiful”
She said this to anyone who walked in, knowing after all these years how to be gracious and engaging. But, in the end, she will forget even that.
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.