In this interview from 2011, I speak with Catharine Murray about how writing poetry helped her heal from a loss that initially felt unspeakable – the death of her 6 year old son. She explains how sitting down to write allows her to create a new space to work with her sadness, and she shares three poems that illustrate the evolution of her grief and her ongoing healing. Her story offers a novel approach to healing from all kinds of losses.
We continue our series on hidden feelings this week with two stories about guilt, the kind we feel when we believe we didn’t do enough at the end of a parent’s life. We’ll hear from people who were troubled by the way they failed to show up for their parents, and discuss the process of finding relief from that guilt.
Dr. Anne talks to her mother, Clare Hallward, about the dementia of Anne’s father and Clare’s husband, John, which lasted for 16 years before his death. They talk about some of the exasperating and even downright terrifying challenges of caring for John as his illness progressed. They discuss key decision points in his care that allowed Clare to have her own life, and that allowed him to continue to make a contribution to their life even when ill. Clare describes how it felt to make the difficult decisions to move her husband to a nursing home, and later to withhold antibiotics and allow him to die of pneumonia.
A conversation with Frances Randolph, whose husband had early-onset Alzheimer’s. Frances talks about the outgoing man she married and how dementia changed him so much that he became someone she barely recognized, someone who ultimately became violent with her. She describes the events that led up to him being transferred to a nursing home, and how she gave herself permission to care for herself even if that meant only going for short visits. Frances describes the series of losses inherent in his Alzheimer’s, including the loss of her sense of herself as a wife. She reports that it was only after his death that she could reclaim her memories of him, as a man with dancing eyes…
A conversation with Julia Jarvis about how her relationship with her difficult father has evolved both before and after he got dementia. She describes how during her childhood, Julia’s father was moody, punitive, and sexually inappropriate. For this reason she limited her contact with him, but with the birth of her own children she allowed him a second chance to be a part of her life. Now that he has dementia, some of his previous tendencies have returned, but in a different form. Julia talks about her struggles to make peace with him, and about the challenges now faced by the caregivers in her father’s life.