Dad had a birthday today. “I never thought I’d live to 82,” he said.

“Dad,” I told him, “You’re 85.”

“Oh! So I am!” he said.

We took him for a hamburger. In a couple of weeks there’s some live music we’ll take him to. It’s a stretched-out birthday.

Visits are quiet. After two strokes, Dad doesn’t hold forth like he used to in conversation. He used to have a very long silence-filling “ahhhhhhh.” He used it if he was searching for a word, so that no one could interrupt until he found it. Now if I ask him the right questions, he’ll answer. Then I need to think of another question, and another. Some do not merit answers. Often, it just feels like me prattling. Sometimes I read or sing to him. I’m not sure whether he likes it or not. But when I take him back to the nursing home, kiss the top of his head and tell him I’ll be back next week, he always seems glad I’ve come.

I read this article on Dementia Friends, a movement started in England, and I’m still crying. The tears caught me by surprise.

“When we first started going to the BB we would have to stand and wait until a seat came open. That didn’t last for long. Over time, Dotty’s dementia friends started saving her a seat. As we approached the bar area they would start waving and smiling. Some would yell Dotty, and a few yelled Mom. Dotty’s list of direct dementia friends had grown to more than ten. They were waiting for her.”

I don’t know if Dad would even like having friends. I know he used to like it. Here’s a poem I wrote probably fifteen years ago. It came back to me as I was thinking about this. Despite the ending, it is not really about death, but about life.

Question For My Father, Who Lives Alone


What if you and I were walking one day

and you said,

“Can you smell the sap?”

And I did?


What if you said,

“The wind is brisk. It has a bite.”

And I said,

“Let’s go inside?”


What if you said,

“Sit at this table.

Here are my friends,

Here and here and here.”

And I touched each hand?


What if you said,

“I will die now.”

And I said,


And you closed your eyes?

–from Considering Flight (2006, Brassweight Press)


Question For My Father, Who Lives Alone