orange autumn leaves

lemons in bowl

For this month’s visit with my mother, I had loaded the abridged version of A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES on my Kindle. I didn’t expect her to follow the details—her dementia has blurred much of her understanding of anything she hears—but I hoped she might enjoy the sounds, the rhythms and flow of poetry. So when she was tucked in her bed, ready to go to sleep, I pulled the rocking chair up close. With the only light coming from a small lamp nearby, I began to read.

I ended up reading aloud all the poems to her. Her eyes would close and I’d think she was asleep. But when I’d stop reading, she’d say to read more. Then she began responding to some of the poems. For instance, “To My Mother” was one of the little poems in public domain, no author cited. She asked me to read it twice.

You, too, my mother, read my rhymes ~   For love of unforgotten times, ~ And you may chance to hear once more ~ The little feet along the floor.

Mom smiled and nodded, agreeing children ran to be read to, because they loved to hear words.  Her responses to the poems were a delightful surprise.  It was the most specifically responsive I’d seen her in a long time.

This is the last full week of September, World Alzheimer’s Month, and also One-on-One Month.  If you have someone in your life who suffers with dementia or Alzheimer’s and doesn’t respond to other things you’ve tried, I recommend you try some One-On-One time reading aloud simple or familiar children’s poems. September is also Self-Improvement Month, and I have no doubt that reading aloud poetry to my mother by lamp light certainly improved me.

September 26 is Johnny Appleseed Day. (Isn’t September a fascinating month?) In fourth grade I did a report on pioneer and nurseryman John Chapman (1774-1845), who made it his mission to plant apple seeds throughout numerous states. I was so impressed by his efforts that I passed out sections of apples to the other students so they could save the seeds and imitate him.  (One of the boys swallowed his seeds to see if he could grow a tree in his stomach. Some things are wasted on 4th graders, I guess.  We all hoped leaves would grow out of his ears.)

Anyway, John Chapman’s vision is even more important this month during the epidemic of a fast moving viral respiratory infection that is hospitalizing children across the country. There is no immunization or miracle drug, but two doctors from the CDC stated that the acid in lemons and the pectin in apples appear to be helpful in deterring the illness.

And finally, September 21-27 is World Reflexology Week. Oh, if only Mom could shake the dementia, she could teach us about the pressure points on hands and feet to release stress, diminish pain, treat sinus infections, and improve energy.  You can Google reflexology for resources and diagrams to get started.

Enjoy this last full week of September. Another of the poems I read to my mother was “Autumn Fires,” about burning leaves. She had me read it aloud twice, and the final lines had her smiling: …The red fire blazes, ~ The grey smoke towers, ~ Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall!   

acupressure feet

acupressure hands



Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference

65 responses to “UNFORGOTTEN TIMES

  1. juliabarrett

    I am going to get started on Reflexology! Been wanting to do that for some time. Did your mother like Robert Frost’s poetry?

    • She did, very much, Julia. But the poems on my Kindle were very old children’s poems, many from England, and for some reason they struck a strong chord with her.
      You will be amazed with reflexology. When I was coaching Cross-X Debate, my mother showed me the pressure point between the thumb and first finger, and my debaters released stress and anxiety by applying pressure to that point before going into competitions.

      • juliabarrett

        I’m sure the children’s poems stir up old memories. I know the pressure point between the thumb and first finger. Now I must study the foot!

      • You’re going to have quite a time with foot reflexology, Julia. There are some obvious pressure points on the toes, but you’ll be surprised at combination points like holding the achilles tendon area while simultaneously applying pressure to places in the arch. I don’t remember what it accomplished, but I do remember the strange sensation it caused.

  2. I will for sure read poems and nursery rhymes to my mother when I see her next month. Thanks!

  3. Let me know how she responds, Darlene.
    I was amazed at how my mother seemed to follow the rhythm of children’s poems and even talk about them. It had been a long time since I heard her respond directly to anything going on around her.
    Good luck!

  4. What a wonderful way to connect with your mother. You know how much I value poetry as a way to get children motivated with words – it is so inspiring to hear that it can help in this way too. I wish I had thought of this when Dad was suffering with dementia – it might have helped him too. As it was, I used to try and talk to him about things in the distant past – silly little funny things- and he would sometimes respond to those – but I’m pretty sure that he would have enjoyed a little simple poetry.

    • I used the same technique with my mom, Jenny, talking to her about things in the distant past. Since I knew many of the stories already, I even coached her with details, and sometimes she responded. But then she didn’t respond, and I had to try something else.
      I wish I had tried the poetry sooner. Children’s “story” poems were especially good. She’d ask me to read a poem again, and I would, or I’d use the poem as a reference to something she used to do, and suddenly she was responding again.
      It may work for only awhile, but as long as it does, I’ll keep taking new poems each month. 🙂

  5. clsudia

    Sharing the poems sounds like a lovely bit of time. Reflexology is wonderful if you can find right help. I had some sessions when my dad died that SO helped me. Alas I can’t get that anymore.

    • I hope you can find reflexology help again, Claudia. It really does help, though I’ve never found anyone who could do better hand and foot pressure points like Mom could. Maybe it was just a mother’s touch? Whatever it was, it made such a difference.

  6. How wonderful that the children’s verse was such a success. I think A Child’s Garden of Verses is in my attic…somewhere. I love reflexology!

    • The one available for my Kindle was even illustrated, with little black and white prints of children with pets or digging in gardens or trudging up to bed. Mom’s eyes aren’t good enough to have the pictures make a difference, but she loved the poems. I think I had the unabridged version in a book when I was growing up, but I don’t know what happened to it.

  7. I love the way your Mom responded to the poems Marylin. It must have been quite a profound effect for her to want some of them twice and they must have struck deep seated chords. I wonder at the memories you stirred for her.
    xxx Sending you Humongous Hugs xxx

  8. Jim

    What a delightful visit, Marylin. Your mom’s response to the children’s poetry was fascinating and quite heartwarming. She has loved both children and poetry her entire life. Reading to her is a great idea.

    Perhaps your regular blog visitors would also appreciate hearing briefly about the ’emergency’ that preceded the poetry reading? I love the way your mom kept a cool head and just took it all in–sort of an adventure.

  9. The reading may be as good for you as for her.

    • Absolutely, Lulu. For a while I had familiar glimpses of my mom again, excited about what the children were doing in each poem, and also kind of moving her hands, waving a finger in time with the rhythm of the words. I loved it!

  10. Hudson Howl

    Oh, what sweet stimulus this was to read. I think you both benefited from your speaking aloud the imagery of words. Your ‘seed’ was not wasted in this case. I sensed reconnecting. I sensed reclamation. I sensed a ‘special’ moment between the two of you. How wonderful. How profoundly beautiful to be present and ‘still’ in moments such as this. A shared experience. Some would call it a blessing, though I like to believe its magic. That sweet little spark when one connects with another so special to them.

    • Your comments are right on! All the things you “sensed”–the reconnecting, the reclamation, the special moments between us–happened, and it was both magic and a blessing.
      And it happened when I least expected it! My goal was to offer her comfort in the music and rhythms of poetry, but instead if gave me comfort and excitement via the spark that it revived in her.
      It was a delightful “one moment in time,” and sometimes it’s the magical moments that are the most lasting gifts.

  11. That was wonderful – did she grow up with those poems by Robert Louis Stevenson? I did, and they opened my ears to verse when I was very young.

    • You know, that’s a good question, but I’m not really sure. She read children’s poems to us when we were young, and we also had many poems we did with hand gestures, like “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” etc. The ones I remember from when I was much older were her own and some of the poems by other writers she knew, and she was asking what I thought and if there was anything I would change. But the funny thing is that in the past I’ve read Mom’s poems to her, and she didn’t respond very much at all.

      • Who knows what part of the brain responds? Pleased to note that, like me, you sang Itsy-bitsy Spider and not Incy-wincy Spider. That puts you in a higher class 🙂 music is in a different area of the brain to speech, so maybe the more rhythmical/singsong poems have aroused a response in her “music centre”?

      • 🙂 I didn’t know there ever was an Incy-wincy Spider! I think I’ll stay with the version I learned–Itsy-bitsy Spider–but either way, the fun part I remember most was making my fingers “climb”–such a great way to help kids laugh as they improve eye-hand coordination and motor skills!

  12. Reading to your mother was a marvelous idea. The rhythm of your voice and the words must have triggered a core deep within her. My mom loves to sing old folk songs and looking at old photos .

    • Can she sing the folk songs on her own, Gerlinde, or does she try to sing along with you once you get started? My mom will sing along with many of the children’s Sunday School songs, but these poems she heard in the nearly dark room as she snuggled under the covers of her bed, seemed to capture the real essence of childhood situations for her.

      • She can sing them on her own, but the last months have been hard on her. Her body is very fragile and she is getting depressed because she can’t do anything and has to rely on help from others. She is unhappy because being independent was very important to her. I just booked another flight to Germany.

      • Oh, I’m so sorry, Gerlinde. That makes it hard on both of you. Safe travels and good luck. I know she’ll be glad to see you.

  13. The connections made thru poetry are wonderful, Marilyn. I’m so glad that your Mom responded to them and wanted to hear more.

    A student, who had behavior issues, shared a book of poems by Maya Angelou. One book was illustrated and she thought it was a child’s book. I thought the audience for the poem could be for adults as well. I was happy that her poems sparked a conversation between us. Wonderful!

    • Oh, Judy, I know exactly the book of Maya Angelou you’re referring to! What a terrific conversation you must have had. Those are the magical moments with our students, the “aha!” moments when facts and possibilities click, that mean so much.

  14. You are so creative in trying new wats to connect with your mother. What a wonderful gift to have her respond in such a particular way.
    Your sharing is so helpful to others faced with caring for loved-ones with dementia.
    Too bad the seeds from today’s apples are designed not to germinate.

    • Thank you, Rod. Honestly, I stumbled onto this one. I was trying to find something that would make a difference to her on some level, and the idea of reading children’s poetry just evolved, probably because if it didn’t work, well, at least I tried. When it not only worked, but also unlocked a response for a few moments here and there, no one was more surprised and pleased than I was. I’m already looking for another assortment of children’s poem to read to her, just in case.

  15. After spending the day with my mother, coming home to read your post touched my heart in a way you’ll never know, Marylin. xo

    • I do understand, Jill, truly. We don’t know what to expect…or if we should expect anything to work, and that’s disappointing and exhausting.
      If there’s something–music, stories, art, poetry, etc.–your mother once really liked, it’s worth a try. Speaking from experience, though, I have to say that it’s a lot of hit-or-miss to find what works, and I know that what does finally work today may not work at all tomorrow.

  16. Oh, Marylin, if I could only do a “wrinkle in map” like Madeliene L’Engle did a”wrinkle in time,” I’d be with you right there, right now. I”m going to continue hoping it will happen, that we meet face-to-face. You’re my kindred spirit! (I LOVE what you did for your mother; your intuition is God-given, I’m sure.

  17. Tracy, how great would that be, to do a “wrinkle in map”! I would love to have you here, and like you, I believe that we will meet face-to-face.

    Although my “intuition” is often just flying by the seat of my pants, trying anything and everything to find something that works, thank you for believing in me and my many efforts.

    This time, reading children’s poems aloud to my mom in the near-dark as she was ready to go to sleep worked very well and was a huge blessing after months of very little response from her. I’m already looking for more special poems to read to her during my next visit, even though she made need something else then.

  18. I’m so happy to hear that your mother was responsive in such a wonderful way. That has been my prayer for you!

    • Answered prayer, Darla. Thank you.
      I was very grateful when Mom responded, and touched that she had questions about some and requests for rereading others. Our roles were reversed; this time she was snuggled under the covers, ready to go to sleep, and I was reading her the night time poems so she could have sweet dreams. I loved it.

  19. Gwen Stephens

    A Child’s Garden of Verses took me right back to my own childhood, Marilyn. I remember my mother reading to us from it at bedtime, along with hours and hours of Mother Goose. Thank you for all the information in this newsy post. I’ve heard lots about this scary respiratory infection, but hadn’t heard about the possible deterrents. I’ll be adding apples and lemons to my grocery list today.

    • We do what we can, Gwen. We’re stocked up with apples and lemons now, too, which will be good for overall health as well as the virus. I’m thrilled when simple improvements, like fresh fruits and more water, can be part of the solution and it doesn’t have to be antibiotics or steroids.
      I’ve got a big Mother Goose book that I’ll be taking with me for my visit with Mom next month; fingers crossed that she’ll enjoy these, too.

  20. I’m so pleased you had such a positive reaction from your mother,Marylin. If you find the right prompt it seems you can still unlock a little of the past. What a warm feeling that must have been.

    • It was a delightful surprise, Andrew. Already I’m collecting more poems to take with me in October, even though that little key may no longer unlock memories and responses by then. But we’ll just enjoy it one surprise at a time.

  21. Reading the poems to your mother is a great idea, Marylin. Anything that can evoke a response is wonderful 😀

    • In one of your posts, Dianne, I thought you wrote about caring for an older family who lived nearby. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
      Reading poetry and having Mom respond made for a wonderful evening. Our roles were reversed. Mom was tucked in her bed, asking questions and wanting more poems, and I was in the rocking chair, reading to her. I loved it.

  22. Mary Zalmanek

    I like this one a lot, Marylin. You paint such a sweet scene with your mom.


  23. Thank you, Mary. This was one of the sweetest visits I’ve spent with Mom in a long time, and every minute was precious time with her.

  24. Hello Marylin,
    I had the Garden of Verses book as a child. I remember it so very clearly. I adored it and read it over and over.Thanks for returning me to a loving memory. ❤
    I actually forwarded your post to a dear friend of mine. Her mother is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. I bet she will love your post.
    xo Joanne

    • In addition to my mom’s responses and enjoyment, Joanne, my own reactions to the familiar poems made it a shared celebration of childhood poems. I hope your friend will trying reading poems to her mother in the nursing home. Maybe the familiar rhythms and flowing words and phrases will trigger something in her memory, too. Thanks for forwarding this on, Joanne.

      • P.S. Joanne, if your friend has any suggestions about things she reads or sings or does when she’s visiting her mother, please share them with me. I’m always eager to learn what’s working for other daughters whose mothers or fathers have Alzheimer’s and dementia. Thanks.

  25. A beautiful read…. for mothers and daughters everywhere… glad to have “discovered” your blog….. 🙂 🙂

  26. dianabletter

    Hi Marylin, I loved the image of the boy in your fourth grade class growing leaves out of his ears! That is hysterical. (Worthy of a story, perhaps, using your great, sort of dark imagination!) I’m glad your mother responded to some of the poems. My mother read my sister and me poetry, and we both know “Annabel Lee” and other poems by heart. I’ll keep your mom in my prayers. Diana

    • One of my favorites was Poe’s “The Raven,” but I didn’t think that was necessarily good bed-time poem, though I might have been surprised.
      Thank you for the continued prayers, Diana. I know you miss your mother.

  27. So interesting to know that your mother responded to the children’s poems – you just never know what they’ll connect too, and this had to have made your day.

  28. It certainly did, Mary. Even more so because it was such a surprise.
    Now I’m encouraged to try other poems, songs, and new foods to see if those trigger a response, too. You’re right; you just never know.

  29. The power of words – I’m so glad your mother connected with the poems. I love that last one about the seasons – simple but so celebratory.

  30. Oh Marylin, how to begin? Firstly to know the joy for you as your dear mother responded in the way she did to these delightful poems…what a beautiful surprise for you, my heart sang as I read along your account of that sweet, precious moment. Secondly, I used to read this very book to my eldest son when he was a boy and I had forgotten it until now! What had me saying out loud was the last verse..’Sing a song of seasons! ~ Something bright in All! ~ Flowers in the summer, ~ Fires in the fall! I can see me and my little boy now reading it together over and over because he absolutely loved saying it! I’m going to remind him of this (he’s coming home next weekend for his birthday!) and I already know exactly what he’ll say… 😉 I’m going to be reciting this poem all day now with such joy in my heart of a precious memory held so deep. Also, and again this has to do with my eldest son, I learnt all about Johnny Appleseed through him when he first started school in California as I had no idea who he was! When he was in 2nd grade, his teacher had the kids do a painting for a ‘save the tree’ contest in the community and to his amazement he won! He is not an artist but was so thrilled that day. I have his poster hidden away in ‘that’ box along with everything else. So you can see why your post move me so much in many different ways and I thank you so much for that my dear friend 🙂

  31. Oh, Sherri, your entire comment makes me so happy. I was thrilled when my mother responded to the poems, asking for more to be read, and making comments about some that reminded her of things in her past.
    But also, knowing your son loved the same poetry book, and now you’re going to share the poem we all remember…that is so special.
    But the part that had me laughing was your son winning the painting contest for Johnny Appleseed. If he wanted to make a startling painting, he could have done a picture of the boy in my class who ate the seeds in his apple–and how we all wished leaves would grow out his ears–that would have been quite a painting!
    Thank you for wonderful comments and sharing how the poems and Johnny Appleseed fit into your life, dear Sherri. I love how our lives share common threads and make us both happy to remember and share them.

    • I love it too Marylin and it never fails to amaze me how we do indeed share these common threads that give us so much to be joyful for despite the miles between us, proving they matter not a jot 🙂 And I meant to say, I did laugh out loud at your story about how you kids hoped to see those leaves growing out of that boy’s ears…and yes, what a great painting that would indeed make, a true winner 😀

  32. This meant a lot to me, Marylin! My Mom’s mind is slowly slipping and it is quite comforting to know that reading her children’s poetry may help her to stay awake, alert and enjoy her listening to them. I do get surprised at the different things that childhood is able to draw out of many elderly people. I enjoyed this pleasant rocking chair post, with your mother saying simply, “Read more please.”

    • I apologize for late comments, since I do realize how hard it is to go back and respond… I have just been playing catch up, checking to see if I needed to comment, your reading the “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” made me smile all over again, when I visited. Your mother does respond and helps to validate the value of trying different approaches. I loved this so much, Marylin!

  33. Jane Thorne

    What a lovely post Marylin and how wonderful to see these words and lines resonate within your lovely Mum. The fourth grader line made me laugh…oohh the classroom incidents with little ones and glue came back to me then. You are lovely. ❤

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