The Healing Voice

Sunlight streams in through large windows

of the room where we sit,

some like me in wheelchairs,

others on couches, in armchairs,

a few with walkers in front of them.

Some shout, cry, wander, fight.

Others, like me, watch the passing world.

The television talks–no one listens.

 

Then she appears, guitar in hand,

asks if we’re ready for some music.

TV silent, she stands,

strums the guitar, sings favorite songs,

knows our names.

Nothing else matters when her voice

fills each corner of the room.

I love to sing,

wish she would stay forever.

***

I recently received word that the above poem won second place in a contest sponsored by Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring work by authors with disabilities. It will appear in the fall/winter issue. Click below to hear me read it.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

 

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Thursday Book Feature: The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter’s Memoir

By Mary Hiland

Copyright 2017.

 

In 2012, Mary Hiland, legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, was forced to move her 96-year-old  mother, blind, deaf, and suffering from dementia, to an assisted living facility. At the time, Mary was living in Columbus, Ohio, and her mother was miles away in Indiana.

After describing the circumstances necessitating this difficult decision, Mary explains how she, with the help of her son and daughter, orchestrated the move to a facility in Columbus, where Mary could more easily care for her mother. Although Mary wasn’t her mother’s personal caregiver, she was still responsible for her bank statements and laundry, making doctor and other appointments, and dealing with the facility staff.

She reminisces about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. She describes a trip they took through the British Isles years earlier when her mother was starting to go downhill.

Mary provides insight on what it’s like to be blind, answering many frequently asked questions by sighted people about how blind people do certain things. She tells several humorous anecdotes about mistakes she made as a result of her blindness, like the time she made chili with canned grapefruit instead of beans.

Mary describes the adjustment process her mother went through after leaving Indiana and all her friends and moving to the assisted living center in Ohio, where she lived for two and a half years before she passed. Her mother eventually made friends with other residents at the facility, even though she couldn’t remember their names. Mary describes the group activities in which she and her mother participated. She eventually started an unofficial red hat group there as an attempt to help her mother and other women at the facility become more socially involved.

Mary describes the healing power of music during this time. Her mother played the piano, and after moving to the assisted living facility, she often played for the residents. One gentleman even sang while she accompanied him. In the end, when her mother was in hospice care and could no longer play the piano, a music therapist brought a key board to her room and played and sang her favorite hymns.

Although I cared for my late husband Bill at home for six years before he passed, I could still relate to Mary’s emotions, especially her guilt. Throughout the book, she keeps saying she could have done things differently. Now that I think back on Bill’s life, I feel the same way. However, in the four years since his death, I’ve come to realize that thinking one could have done things differently doesn’t do any good now. I certainly hope Mary has come to realize this, too.

The scenes in the book where music played a role nearly moved me to tears. I was once a registered music therapist, working with nursing home residents. After Bill suffered his strokes, I couldn’t do for him, as a music therapist, what I could have done for other residents like Mary’s mother. I wish a music therapist could have been available to work with Bill on singing in order to improve his speech. During Bill’s last days, instead of me playing the guitar or holding his hand and singing his favorite songs, I wish a music therapist could have played a keyboard and sang songs while I held his hand and sang along.

This book is similar to my own memoir, My Ideal Partner, in which I explain how I met and married and then cared for Bill after he suffered his strokes until he passed away. We’ll all grow old eventually and may need to move to an assisted living facility or depend on someone to care for us in our last years. Therefore, I recommend reading both books for insights on life, aging, and disabilities.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

A Losing Battle (A Poem)

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I just found out that today is World Alzheimer’s Day. This inspired me to post a poem I wrote years ago that appears in my collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. Click on the title to hear me read it.

***

A Losing Battle

 

My get up and go

just got up and went.

I’m feeling so down.

My whole life’s been spent.

 

I sit in my chair

day in and day out.

Sometimes I cry.

Sometimes I shout.

 

I don’t know one soul

from the next, don’t you see?

I can only smile

when they talk to me.

 

I need help each day,

am unsure what to do.

Everything’s jumbled.

Everything’s new.

 

Although I can walk,

I don’t know where to go.

Nothing’s familiar.

There’s nothing I know.

 

Sometimes it’s hopeless.

I see no light

at the end of the tunnel,

no daybreak in sight.

 

It’s just as well

there’s no forthcoming dawn–

for my get up and go’s

gotten up and gone.

***

I’m so thankful that my late husband Bill never had Alzheimer’s. His mind was clear until almost the very end. To read more of our story, please check out my new memoir. I can just imagine how awful it would be to care for a loved one who didn’t know who I was.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

How Mother Influenced My Writing

The year is 1975. We’re living in Sheridan, Wyoming. At the age of thirteen, I insert a piece of paper into the typewriter and turn it on. Its hum fills the living room and mingles with the whine of the electric mixer in the adjacent kitchen. While Mother prepares cake frosting, I type the assignment for my seventh grade creative writing class. When I’m done, I remove the sheet from the typewriter and carry it into the kitchen where Mother has just finished decorating the cake. With my limited vision, I admire her handywork while she scans my story.

The prompt is to write about someone who walks by a door in a wall that is usually closed but now open. Out of curiosity, my character steps through the open doorway. It is dark, and all of a sudden, a green monster jumps out. That is as far as Mother gets before saying, “Oh, you don’t want a green monster here. Let’s see…”

She strolls back into the living room, sits down at the typewriter, and inserts a clean sheet of paper. She verbalizes what she is typing since I can’t read print that small. When she’s done, my ugly story of a little girl attacked by a green monster and then waking up in  her own bed is transformed into a wondrous tale of a child who discovers a new world after walking through an open door in a wall. Why didn’t I think of that? A day or so later, the teacher hands me back this story with an A+.

***

Fast forward a year later. In the eighth grade, I’m assigned to write an essay about cancer for Science. We’ve moved to a bigger house with a study upstairs where I can work in peace and quiet. This time, I sit and listen while Mother reads me the research material from the public library and types the essay, again verbalizing each word or phrase as it appears on the page.

As the deadline looms, she keeps me home from school one day so “we” can finish it. This is great fun, I think, as I listen to her read and type. Fascinated by the topic, I realize that Mother could get cancer if she doesn’t stop smoking. When I point this out to her, she says, “Oh hush. I’m trying to write this for you.” I receive another A+.

***

Fast forward to high school. As a junior, I’m taking another creative writing class. Too busy teaching English and communications and directing plays at Sheridan College, Mother leaves me to my own devices until one night when I can’t think of anything to write. “Let’s see,” she says, sitting down at the typewriter.00

A while later, she has produced a thought provoking tale about an old man in New York City and how badly others treat him. “This is better than anything you’ve written before,” says my teacher.

***

Two years later, as a freshman at Sheridan College, I’m taking an English class from one of Mother’s colleagues where I’m assigned to write a paper on Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” This time, I’m determined to do it myself. With the help of the college’s work study program, I find a student willing to accompany me to the library and read material on tape. When I get home, I type the paper which mostly consists of a description of the story, some background information on Shirley Jackson, and what reviewers say about her work. When I finish, I show it to Mother. “Well, it’s nice, but I think we can do better,” she says.

She sits down at the typewriter, inserts a blank sheet of paper, and in a matter of hours, my basic English 101 paper is transformed into a scholarly essay. Her colleague loves it. From that moment on, I don’t even try to write papers myself.

***

Fast forward another two years. I’ve gone away to school, to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where Mother doesn’t know any of the faculty. Late one night, I’m sitting in my dorm room, staring at a blank sheet of paper in my own electric typewriter. I’m supposed to write a paper about Duke Ellington for a jazz appreciation class. After listening to material another student recorded and making notes in Braille, I haven’t a clue where to start. Mother’s not here, and the paper must be turned in the next day. What do I do?

Then it comes to me. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I type it in quotation marks and then continue. Duke Ellington’s life, his music, dates of publication and performances, his style, my impressions, all flow out of my fingers. It’s as if Mother was writing this paper, but she’s not. She’s 150 miles away, snug in her bed with Dad. The paper comes back a couple of days later with an A+.

I mail it home to my parents. Dad, a jazz enthusiast, gives it a rave review. Mother says nothing. I don’t care. I can write my own papers and still get good grades.

***

Fast forward again. In 1999, Mother has been diagnosed with cancer. On a hot summer day, I sit at my Mac computer in my air conditioned apartment. For the past ten years, I’ve been living independently and working as an activities assistant in a nursing home. I’ve just been bitten by the writing bug.

I’m crafting a piece that I’ll send to a contest. It’s a personal essay about how one of my sixth grade teachers who threatened me with an eighteen-inch ruler saw the error of his ways and wrote me years later to apologize. I know better than to show this to Mother. Instead, after proofreading it a million times, printing it, then reading it again with my closed-circuit television magnification system to be sure there are no mistakes, I mail it off. Six months later, Mother’s gone. My essay wins second place in the contest and is published a year later in SageScript, Sheridan College’s literary journal, with a note dedicating it in loving memory of my mother, Joan H. Johnson.

***

Looking back, I realize that in her own way, Mother was teaching me how to write. While she wrote my papers, I couldn’t go outside or listen to music in my room. I had to sit quietly and listen so that when I grew up and she was no longer around, I could do my own writing. She also wanted to be a writer, but family and other obligations kept her from pursuing her dream. Now that I’ve published three books and am working on a fourth, she can live that dream vicariously through me.

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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