“A Mother Speaks, A Daughter Listens: Journeying Together Through Dementia,” a new book of poems from Felicia Mitchell, invites us to share one mother-daughter dementia journey from the early days of a woman’s life through her last years in a nursing home in Abingdon and invites the reader to reflect on emotional transformations that continue after a loved one’s death.
These poems, some created from the mother’s words and all from the daughter’s heart, invite us to see Mitchell’s mother as a complete, albeit changed, woman at the close of her life — and how the depth and complexity of Mitchell’s love for her is enriched by understanding what remains, and remains transformative, even as a brain changes.
While each life story is unique, dementia’s ripple effect on relationships touches us in common ways, so Mitchell hopes to invite conversations about and reflections on dementia with “A Mother Speaks, A Daughter Listens: Journeying Together Through Dementia” to help others deal with complex times and emotions.
Along with this book, Mitchell has engaged with the topic in other pieces, including in an anthology edited by Margaret Stawowy and Jim Cokas forthcoming from Shanti Arts in September, “Storms of the Inland Sea: Poems of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving” and “One Hundred Memories: In Aid of Alzheimer’s Society” (edited by Mel Wardle Woodend for Dream Well Press, 2019, in England). In addition, one of her favorite blog contributions to “Cure Today” is “Breast Cancer and Dementia: One Caregiver’s Story.”
Mitchell recently retired as professor emeritus after teaching 33 years at Emory & Henry College.
Visit www.feliciamitchell.net for more information about the book and related activities.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moths and vermin destroy . . . Matthew 6
Unravelling the last hem my mother hemmed,
I finger the cotton thread as if I could follow it to her
instead of to the night she hemmed this coat,
her stitches steady but nothing like before —
nothing like stitches in the petticoat of my first dress.
I have this first Easter dress and little more.
If I had thought she would one day be gone,
I would have saved everything my mother ever stitched
instead of this store-bought coat with her last clumsy hem.
It was not a fair trade, a lifetime of dresses for this coat.
I think of my mother the last night in her home,
sitting in her chair by the last lamp she would own,
pulling white thread through gray wool to hem a coat
too large for her by all degrees, bought off the rack
by her son to keep her warm on her last trip, her trip to me.
For ten years, I have kept her coat in a chest,
pulling it out each autumn to finger the hem,
unable to let loose a coat too large for me to wear.
But now, today, I am letting go, forgetting the hem
and folding the coat as I think of how warm it will be
for somebody who would love to be warmer.
I know this is exactly what my mother wants,
so I hang the coat up to shake out the wrinkles,
then wind the thread I pulled from the hem, knots and all,
to tuck the talisman under a tuft of white hair
I keep in a porcelain bowl on the mantel
next to my favorite picture of my son.
From A Mother Speaks, A Daughter Listens.
Journeying Together Through Dementia
(Wising Up Press, 2022)
Reprinted with permission