Toni Truesdale works with people suffering from dementia. In "Behind The Locked Door," her book of essays and poems about Alzheimer's, she writes about "sundowning," the symptoms of restlessness and confusion when, at around sunset each day, patients begin searching for home and bygone family.
"My sweet, eighty-two-year–old friend repeats a sentence for the third time: “Well, I guess it’s time to go home; Mother will be waiting” I look at the clock. It's 4:30 p.m. and the shadows outside are lengthening; the sun is going down. Her mother has been gone for over twenty-five years.
“Why don’t we listen to music first?” I gently change the subject. “How about Moon River?” She allows me to guide her to the couch and prop her feet up as the music curls around her like a warm blanket. She smiles and dozes off, lost in the memory of the song.
It’s not an actual structure or a certain house our Alzheimer's friends are searching for, but what used to be. Maybe everything would be all right, if only they could just get home.
I contemplate what home means to me personally as I pull in to my driveway and see warm welcoming porch lights shimmering softly on the white snow.
Home is the confidence of knowing someone has my back and scratches it to my delight. It's knowledge: no matter where I go, my return is always welcomed.
It’s being familiar: things belong to me, I have ownership. I decide. It’s a snack in the fridge at 2 p.m. - or 2 a.m. It’s a late-night movie or an early morning cup of coffee and the newspaper. Home is having my slippers by the door and my own pillow and blanket on the couch. It is messages on the phone and mail on the kitchen table. Home is feeling I am loved and returning the love.
Alzheimer’s is a thief. It steals “home” and dooms the afflicted to hopelessly roaming, searching, calling, aching for home."
Truesdale pairs her reflection with an excerpt from a poem by the Pulitzer Prize writer Vijah Seshadri, from his book, 3 Sections. In his poem, Seshadri recognizes the searching for peace in the once-familiar.
"Bright Copper Kettles"
Dead friends coming back to life, dead family,
speaking languages living and dead, their minds retentive,
their five senses intact, their footprints like a butterfly’s,
mercy shining from their comprehensive faces—
this is one of my favorite things.
I like it so much I sleep all the time.
Moon by day and sun by night find me dispersed
deep in the dreams where they appear.
In fields of goldenrod, in the city of five pyramids,
before the empress with the melting face, under
the towering plane tree, they just show up.
“It’s all right,” they seem to say. “It always was.”
The eyes under the eyelids dart faster and faster.
Through the intercom of the house where for so long there was no music,
the right Reverend Al Green is singing,
I could never see tomorrow.
I was never told about the sorrow...
(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 5/25/16 and 11/30/16. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)