The Language of Love

August 1st, 2011 by @lamberts

What happens when words are no longer words?  When language bears no meaning, and everything is lost in translation?  Henry Walker wrote a collection of poems spanning 12 years as he deals with his mother’s dementia and sees the toil that Alzheimer’s takes on even the most beautiful of spirits.

He shares the struggles, confusion, and glimmers of hope as he learns how to speak a silent language with the mother he loves so dearly. The Duke Family Support Program shared his work in their 2009 Fall newsletter, and Henry offers it as a free download here.

Jean: “Let me tell you, we love you all, and we’re gonna keep on loving you as long as we can. . .
What’s good about you all is you catch on,
you catch on, you catch on,
and you know it’s not going to be perfect.”

Jean Walker, Henry's mother

A Little Help

by Henry Walker, November 17, 2001
if we’re lucky
we share our journey through this life
with guides who help us find our way
with partners who help us carry our burdens
with those we can help up with a hand
with those who will help us up,
if we can keep going long enough,
through whom love can well up
so that their
and hands
and the fullness of their selves
hold us in their care
so that through the last days of our journey
we’re not alone and lost,
those who care for Mother these last days
are humble servants of the divine,
though Mother can feel lost she’s not alone
and those caregivers endure the storms of her frustration
so that the glowing sun of her self
can still break through,
through her bright eyes and laughing heart,
flowing from the love
with which she still embraces the world.

Down to the Core

by Henry Walker, March 17, 2000
I go into her room
and gaze at her sleeping peacefully,
a moment of doubt–whether to wake her?
a moment of worry of how much of her will wake up
and how I will react, and then I move on
and sing a verse of “Down in the Valley”
and then another and she softly wakes into a cough,
I speak to her, her eyes open, and she says
“Well, hello, Henry.”
We talk for awhile
but since so many words have lost their moorings to her thoughts
it’s hard to tell what we’re talking about,
after a few minutes I start to leave
so I say something and hit my leg– shouting out “By Crackey!”
a big grin fills her face and she hits her own leg, laughing “By Crackey!”,
a back and forth joke we did together months ago.
Singing and joking still work
music and humor mooring the words into meaning, fulfilling them,
using more of the soul to feel their meaning
than the airy world of language usually uses,
as we build fairy castles within our reason–
and when it flies away from us, burned like Icarus,
maybe we drop down to what we still have left,
so much burned away , but it’s still the core of Mother there,
burning with love, smiling with music and good humor,
what a tribute to her life
for her to drop down to such a wonderful foundation
she’s built with the spirit of her life.

Mother In Spring

by Henry Walker, April 7, 2001
The winding path I follow pulls me round again into Mother’s room,
first I’m out in the yard and spy her, sitting up, through the window,
we wave, I blow her a kiss
and she returns one,
I visit with her for a little while and she’s in a fuss
about that man who wouldn’t listen, who disturbed her,
getting from bed to chair
more effort than she wants to deal with
her fussing more than I want to deal with
so I excuse myself for a dip in the creek,
half an hour later I return to visit with her,
after she waves me in from outside
we exchange exclamations of how pretty it all is,
then I venture a comment about the corncob squirrel feeder
and her eyes narrow in confusion at what connection to meaning
my words might have,
I rephrase, go just for talking about squirrels, a favorite of hers,
and she responds with words that I think are about squirrels,
it’s like the ideas are still there, the images,
but the words her mind calls up fly off on tangents to the random
so we lose words as tools that each of us can use
to pry apart the walls between us
and let us in to understand the other,
for now we still have the tools of a twinkle in the eye, of a hug and a kiss,
for five minutes I stand by Mother while her eyes are outside
and her mind is full of story
which she tells me
which she tells me
which she tells me,
just like that,
full of repetition,
of repetition,
of repetition,
of kids she tries to help, of limits to her help
to her help
to her help,
words of love, of God, of dying but not knowing the hour,
and the story is real and powerful and clear to her while I only get glimpses,
I don’t say anything till she’s finished, because if I were to,
I would interrupt,
now at this stage in her life, it is not our place to interrupt, to disagree,
she has enough frustrations keeping the train on the track
and moving along to where she wants to go without us derailing,
she finishes and is quiet for awhile,
we look together at her favorite picture, twin babies,
and she tells me of their life
there, on the desk,
for 12 or 13 years she thinks, details don’t matter,
she’s hard at work building meaning with her life,
it’s like the stories of Faerie
and she’s stepping away into a different realm
and just because we can’t see it
doesn’t mean it isn’t real
doesn’t mean it isn’t real
to her,
I think a song for her would be great
a song with a lot of repetition,
so Joan and I sing of “coming ‘round the mountain,”
she enjoys it.

Like in a Dream

by Henry Walker, December 30, 2000
she talks to the pictures on the desk,
they live just like we do,
so I guess we’re real in some two-dimensional way
like a movie or dream,
her words tumble out
like she’s just woken up
and the dream’s still real,
so much now she doesn’t understand
so much now she can’t control,
and when she’s at her best now
she lets go and quits straining
to put back together what can’t be
so she’ll laugh and shrug away the problem
and she can let herself be happy in the moment
with teaching the pictures
talking at visitors
enjoying a meal, birds, snow,
she hates to be cleaned
and she can work to hold on to the fussing
till soon she forgets
and she’s back in the present,
the moment.

Alzheimer’s if often said to be a family disease since it touches us all.  Though over 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, many family members feel alone and isolated in their struggle.  Homecare Advocate gives a special thanks to Henry for sharing his work and intimate family situation with others so that they would not be isolated in their struggles with this mind-robbing disease.  For more information on this disease, warning signs, and ways you can help, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.


5 Responses to “The Language of Love”

August 08, 2011 at 5:36 pm, Chong Gebert said:

Nice and informative.Thanks for sharing.


August 10, 2011 at 6:51 am, Susan Shober said:

I read your blog and I like it! Thanks.


August 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm, Delinda Mccuiston said:

Nice and great post!!


August 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm, Fredric Malen said:

I love it!


May 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm, Care Corner in Phoenix said:

Beautiful poem!


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