The Leavings:  Reflections on Death and Alzheimer's




When he left, I’m not sure.

We knew that short-term memory leaves first,

that newer experiences don’t register.

Knowing is important, but does not make the leavings easier.


The personality did not leave as quickly as the memory;

Flashes of humor bumped up against what we knew of the disease and who he had been.

Knowing helps to measure the progress of the leavings,

but it doesn’t help us know what to do ... or not to do.


Leavings are everywhere:

They come by stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, cancer

They come by Picasso’s longing fixation late in life

They come by breaking of bones, by loss of

cartilage and muscle and skin.


Once, the leavings were isolated,

singular, and unconnected in a young mind.

Later, the leavings accumulate, leaving an impression 

much like the one a body makes in an old mattress, 

distorting our world as they leave dents in our lives and, sometimes, holes.


A very old post oak tree at the gate at Dew was young when he was young.

It now seems dead, but the trunk still stands 25 feet tall—

a remarkable sight– the silver tree with stubby limbs.

Before it started dying, it was 50, 60 feet tall, strong and proud,

but it no longer offers canopy for shade and will soon fall, as will we all.


We take much for granted when we are young:

our bodies, our lovers, our parents, our relatives and friends.

The leavings don’t seem so significant then;

they may be important, even shocking,

but their significance doesn’t penetrate.


As the leavings accumulate, they take their toll.

Sometimes there is a numbing,

focusing on the everyday keeps emotions at a distance,

but eventually emotions catch up with reality,

and we understand better our fate and the fate of all.


In the end, his waking hours made little sense.

Who knows what happened in his dreams?

Emily wrote: it is knowing that this life will never

come again that makes it so sweet.

He knew the bitterness, but also the sweetness, of life.


© Lamar W. Hankins

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