Dear SJF Communications Blog Followers and Visitors,
I wrote the poem “Ann’s Zest Ends” one evening in 1991, shortly after seeing the highly acclaimed film “Awakenings” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099077/combined with my husband. During the movie, which starred the late (and great) Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, I was in tears. It dawned on me why I was so sad. A female character in the film (“Lucy Fishman”, played by the phenomenal actress Alice Drummond http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0238541/ , reminded me so much of my Maternal Grandmother (kindred spirit and soulmate), Ann, who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, was unfortunately institutionalized and died prematurely at age 60 in 1971. “Awakenings” had awakened many memories from when I was age 8-14, with such a warm, wonderful, zany and fun Grandma experiencing her devastating premature demise, before us and before her time. There were no day care facilities back then. It was a very tough time for our family. I “grew up” early because of this experience. I know I was called to the nursing profession as a result of this.
To make a long story short, one evening after being immersed in thought from seeing “Awakenings”, I couldn’t get to sleep. My husband was away on a business trip. I tried all my usual methods to relax and fall asleep, but simply couldn’t. All of a sudden, I grabbed the beautiful, then “blank” journal that my husband had given me as a gift. I thought deeply about Ann and reminisced. “Ann’s Zest Ends” simply and mysteriously appeared on the written page. It was chronological, it rhymed and it even reflected how I felt 20 years after her death. It was a surreal experience, because I didn’t have an intention to write. It simply “poured out”. I was crying and smiling, and nodding and acknowledging, remembering good times as well as sad times…I was amazed at the cathartic nature of writing about my loss of Grandma Ann, 20 years later.
After calling my Mom and reading the poem to her the next morning, Mom encouraged me to “share it with everyone”, so I did. I would recite “Ann’s Zest Ends” at business meetings, to health care audiences, caregiver groups, and to the general public. There was no limit. It was a truly cathartic, therapeutic experience. The response was always responsive and somewhat overwhelming, as someone would always come up to me afterwards and share their story about a loved one. We frequently would need tissues. I soon discovered the tremendous power of poetry as a result of “sharing the caring’ with others.
“Ann’s Zest Ends” led me to write more poetry “from the heart” which evolved into my book “Poetic Expressions in Nursing…Sharing the Caring” which was published in 1993. That led to my providing many presentations and seminars on the power of poetry in several states and overseas and as a “Distinguished Lecturer” in the International Nursing Honor Society, Sigma Theta Tau.
I wrote the poem 23 years ago and it still rings true to me, although there are definitely more support groups and possibilities as well as much more research done. This is my tribute to Ann and others with Alzheimer’s, past, present and future and the many devoted caregivers who continue to battle this devastating disease with patience, love and commitment to their loved ones.
This one is for you, Grandma Ann….
Yours in Poetry,
ANN’S ZEST ENDS
Susan J. Felice-Farese, MSN, RN
Her zest for life, boundless energy
A smile a minute, so full of glee…
Remembrances of my grandmother Ann, so significant to me.
She ran the show, she was “in the know”
About this or that, nonetheless, always on the go!
So sharp, so much fun, and so “on the ball”
How I long to remember, and long to recall:
Endless walks, sun or snow, when I was small…
She’d pick me up, when my spirit would fall.
My first real buddy, my first true friend,
Her ears and shoulders she’d always lend;
If I was sad, my pain I’d spend
(But always through her, my heart would mend).
But when I was about seven, in 1963,
Something in her changed, so drastically;
She would no longer laugh, (she no longer knew me).
She would wander about, so aimlessly
She would light the gas stove, and let the fire run free!
Her eyes then would gaze, in a wild “combat stare”
She grew mute and confused, (she would pick at her hair).
Who was this new stranger, taking over her mind?
Where did her spirit go, what did it find?
From doctor to doctor, this mystery grew,
It was 1965, and still nobody knew
To a state institution eventually,
(Her spirit then faded each day, religiously).
She grew steadily worse, it took six more long years
I would visit her with my mother, (we would share many tears)
Day passes were draining, the public would stare
We’d assist her in the bathroom, (comb the knots from her hair).
I wonder how she felt, personality “withered”
Did she realize her melt? (Were her synapses in a blizzard)?
On the thirteenth of April, 1971
When the hospital called us, ’twas the weight of a ton
She was terminally losing the battle, and had wasted away,
Lost all faculties, (not her choosing)
She died soon after that day.
I reached for her hand at the bedside,
To say “goodbye, friend” on that fateful day;
She mumbled and stared and “connected”
She mumbled as if to say:
“So long for now, Susan, for I’m afraid it’s time to take my rest,
-cause Alzheimer’s drained my life away,
(But at least you’ve inherited my zest!”)
Twenty years later, I weep for the past
Fond memories of Ann (she left the “good life” so fast).
Her suffering, although it was an unfair curse,
Was the stimulus for me to become a nurse.
As I seriously reflect on this draining disease
That “robs the brain” of freedom cells, and “independence ease”
I AM ANGRY NO DEFINITE CAUSE OR CURE HAS BEEN FOUND
ALL THE RESEARCH WON’T TOUCH THE PAIN THAT ABOUNDS.
If I had just one wish that would be granted to me
I’d want to spend a day with Ann, just her and me;
Her cheerful style, giving nature so gold,
Her best feature “zest”, her stature so bold…
(…But who’s kidding who…she was taken away in her prime-
A true servant of God, strong will, lost mind…)
“One who can still remember”