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This is my first #WEP submission. The prompt for this challenge is The Great Wave, a woodblock print by Japanese artist Hokusai. You can find out more about the print in the link on the screenshot.
We all face an impossible wave at some point. Ours is Alzheimer’s. I’ve used several metaphors to describe my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, the word “journey” being one of them, bull, bumper cars, and others. Today, I’m standing in this metaphor: the Great Wave.
The Great Wave Metaphor
I take a couple of steps in.
The waves are barely…
…a lap of foam against my toes.
Then another wave. Charging line of water, sand, and fragments cover my feet.
I stand in my own metaphor.
Is this how it begins?
Imperceptible force. A lap of water?
The wave collapses, drawing tiny shells, bits of sand back into the ocean’s mystery.
I take another step.
Do I have a choice?
“I don’t like it!” The words rise like a wave, above the gravel in mom’s throat.
“What?” dad asks, but he knows the answer.
Her voice can be strong, her words solid, especially when she’s angry.
“But you’re not alone. The sitters are with you.”
“I don’t like it!” she repeats, strong, riding this wave of frustration. “Who likes that? Someone always…”
The wave begins to collapse, her words fail her. She waves both hands frantically behind her as she takes a step forward.
“…following you?” I ask.
“Yeah, who likes that?”
“It’s to keep you safe. What if you fall?”
“I don’t like it!”
None of us do.
Do we have a choice?
Sometimes she falls… the waves.
Mom’s still waving a hand behind her, shooing away the sitter who’s already left for the day, who followed her all the day.
“Who likes someone…” her hands brandishing in the air, “even to the bathroom. I guess I took too long and…”
“She came to check on you?” I ask, actively guiding mom away from the collapsing conversation.
“I just want to be with my people.”
“I guess I just need to quit…” dad begins, the riptide pulling him under.
The wave often has its way with us, sucking us in, under.
This is hard.
I take mom by the elbow. She resists a bit. I’m interrupting.
“You’re trying to stop me…”
Yes, I don’t want her to spin dad into an argument he’ll regret, and she’ll forget. Her words will rise, hurtful, then collapse on themselves, rolling back out, forgotten.
“C’mon. Let’s go to my house.”
I take her hand and guide her into our afternoon routine: a walk to my house, the dirty dishes, small chores she can still do, she likes to do.
Mom likes to help, be needed but she struggles against the waves and currents. They batter her small frame. The riptide buckles her knees.
“My legs don’t know what they want to do.”
I’m holding her hand as we walk to my house, tightening my grip against the pull of her legs. Another wave of symptoms? Her legs do their own thing, hurling her forward, sideways, sometimes backwards.
“I’ve got you.”
But do I?
I just want to be with my people, but her people are busy and scattered.
Sometimes I submerge myself before it hits, let the wave wash above me, gently pulling my limbs, swirling my hair.
My children like to dive headfirst into the waves. Total control.
None of us know how to ride it.
This is so hard.
I stand in this metaphor, lurching back as the wave hits me, inching forward with the riptide, waiting for answers.
Mom dove into the disease headfirst.
“I think it started,” she told me one day about four years ago. “I’m having trouble remembering things.”
Bull by the horns, dive into the wave.
We know about waves in our family. We watched helpless as a great wave pulled my dad’s mom under. My shy, small grandmother sunk fast, fighting sitters, swearing, violent then diminished. Then it came after my mom’s mom. My stern, strong grandmother drifted into the waters, lost, uncharacteristically meek and needy. The wave batters the mind, not just the memories, but also the quirks, the personality, broken pieces of shell, unrecognizable, battered into sand.
Mom knew her wave might come.
Standing in the surf, in a family history of waves, a broken shell lodges between my toes.
The insistent thrashing of shells that crack, splinter, and shatter, tiny rivers of foam and sand chasing the waves back to sea.
“I don’t like this!”
It’s hard to move freely in the surges and swells, water battering our control, wearing us down.
“Sometimes we don’t use good words,” mom says as we walk through the field to my house, the sitter long gone, most of the day behind us.
“You had a hard day?” I ask, knowing that she probably hurled ugly words at the sitter earlier.
“I don’t like…” another flourish as she waves her free hand.
I hold her back as her legs pull her forward. We stop a moment to get control. She looks up.
“You have clothes on the line.”
Her voice changes. Laundry on a line, something she can do.
She wants to help, something to do besides battling the waves and swatting away sitters. Something she can do without spying eyes.
“No, but I’ll cook something, and you’ll have more.”
The great wave is coming.
We can all feel it. It’s fast and it’s slow. Some days we all collapse on the foamy sand, exhausted. Other days, we wade into the waters with her.
She’s a little less fierce, but she dives into the wave. “I have this thing, this problem with my head,” she explains.
The great wave will swallow her, cartwheels, legs over head, words foaming, splintering, sinking into the sand.
“The FDA approved a new drug this week.”
But it’s too late for Aduhelm. We can’t stop the great wave. It’s coming. It will take her. And bits of us.
Busy and scattered, we do our best to stand with her in the surf, staring across the surface of the mystery.
It’s coming. She knows it’s coming. She’s known a long time and she dives in headfirst every day to remember.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved 2021
Word count: 970
FCA and all comments and feedback welcome
Hi Pennie – a sadly brilliantly written piece about your mother and your family … using the WEP prompt of a great wave, that rises and absorbs a little more, eventually each day … til we are worn down. I feel for you … I’ve experienced the disease, but very gratefully not in my immediate family. Congratulations on the Brilliant Debut Award – so well deserved … all the best – Hilary
So tragic, this swallowing up of a personality, a person and the family by the waves of Alzheimers. Compelling metaphor. Welcome to the WEP.
Thanks for the welcome. Glad to be here.
Very powerful use of the metaphor. It’s so heartbreaking.
Nice post on Alzheimer’s Disease. It comes as small waves of Dementia, Greater waves of Parkinson’s Disease. Then we could barely recognizes ourselves.
Dear Pennie. What a beautiful prose poem on an unforgiving illness, like baring a burden so great, one is constantly submerged. Your descriptions, interspersed with dialogues remaining without responses created the perfect pattern of starts and stops in language and communication fitting with this malady. Thank you for sharing so candidly and with compassion your experience and your writing. Poignant from start to finish.
Wishing you an inspired summer, and hopefully some rest.
Beautifully done. My mom lives with a different form of dementia and it’s a hideous and cruel disease. The ebb and flow of the waves is so true.
Sending hugs your way.
Wow, Pennie. That is brilliantly and beautifully rendered, and incredibly painful. I think you really captured something there. We have been spared that one in my family, but you made me feel it all the same;
This is so heartfelt. And I’m so sad for you and your family. My mom had dementia, a cousin to Alzheimer’s. It too runs in the family. At 69, I’m starting to show signs. I’ll be writing away and then I simply can’t remember how to spell a simple and common word. I have to stop and think for a bit. It’s my hope that they will find a cure, so that drug you mentioned is a good thing. Not for dementia, but soon.
May the Lord Jesus bring you and your family peace.
You have given us a piece of a large, complicated picture and done it so effectively. My heart feels for you and your family.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Alzheimer’s is a devastating and frightening disease. This is such an emotional and moving piece. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
I’ve had Alzheimer’s in my extended family so I am somewhat familiar with the challenges. I was moved by the accuracy, the depth, the power and the raw beauty of the metaphor. Absolutely stunning. Welcome to WEP and looking forward to reading more from you.
Wow… Pennie, what an emotional ride on that wave of pain. You captured the situation with such honesty and reality. Your metaphors and the rolls of the waves were in perfect sync for what is coming next…the GREAT WAVE. Excellent!
This is the best description of Alzheimers I’ve ever read. I will carry this in my heart. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for sharing the imagery, and I love the comparison of the wave as an overwhelming force that can’t be stopped to this devastating illness.
Hi Miss Pennie,
I didn’t know anything about Alzheimer’s until we visited my aunt who had it. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t recognize me or my mom or why she got angry when we tried to help her put stuff away. My mom explained it later. For sure it’s devastating for everyone.
Your wave metaphor sure illustrates the increasing struggle caused by this disease. What you’ve penned is meaningful, emotional, and educational. It’s well-written and tugs at the heartstrings. Thanks for being a wonderful daughter.
Welcome to WEP, Pennie. I’m so glad you posted as I was trying to track you down. This is staggering. I need to come back and read it again and let it sink in.
Thanks, Denise. Excited to finally dive in.
Alzheimer is such a tragic disease. It changed a personality it touches, turns people into different ones. Your writing is so emotional, it was painful to read. Thanks for sharing, Pennie.
Beautiful! I haven’t had your experience but in listening to those that have, your description is spot on. God be with your mom as she continues this journey.~Merri Beth