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If you're new to this blog and want some context for it, read this post from the day I announced my Alzheimer's disease and this post about the day I announced I had lost it. For more info, visit my website with my autobiography and all blog entries in chronological order for easier reading to catch up. There's also a sermon on the spiritual lessons I've learned through this journey through my damaged mind.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Washington DC

The last couple of posts have been a bit heavy, so I’m sharing something lighter today.  I first heard the former poet laureate of the US, Billy Collins, recite “Forgetfulness” on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion several years ago, long before my diagnosis, but it felt familiar then, anyway.  A reader recently reminded me of it. 


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

                                                                       -- Billy Collins
If you’re interested in listening to Billy Collins read his poem, go to  I found the animation that went with his reading annoying, so I just didn’t watch it.

This poem is about dementia in general, not necessarily about Alzheimer’s, but it could still be interpreted as making light of a disease as serious as Alzheimer’s (or any other dementia for that matter).  So I’m sorry if anyone is offended.  I hope it’s clear that I don’t take Alzheimer’s lightly or minimize its terrible impact on the lives of so many.  But in our society we can hardly say the word Alzheimer’s.  It needs some lightening up. 


  1. I heard that poem read by the author on A Prairie Home Companion some years ago. My mother had had both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, so, far from being offended, it was extremely moving to me, as well as rather ominous. Thank you for your generosity and your candor.

  2. Your piece on 'Forgetfulness' reminded me of my strong belief that in everything there is some good, even in horrific parts of human history where one has to search for the good. One simple benefit I've always perceived in growing older (I'm now 76) is that movies we saw years ago will seem new to someone who is increasingly forgetful. I'm sure the readers of your insightful and valuable blog can provide many other, and more meaningful, examples.

  3. I like the facebook picture of two elderly ladies and it says, "We will always be old friends. Until we go to the nursing home, then we'll be new friends again! LOL.

  4. Well done David, another great post.

  5. You're right that we can all stand to lighten up. And I really enjoyed the poem!

    I checked a book out of the library last week and read 3 chapters before remembering I had already read it (in March!)....that was a comeuppance!

    1. Oh yes! The getting up in the middle of the night to track down something elusive. Wikipedia is so helpful on that front. I feel jubilant when I can recall something I have been trying to retrieve, especially when I do it with out any help

  6. Anonymous7/05/2013

    My wife Shaun Murphy and I also live in DC. I am 75 this year. I have ET, essential tremor, and I do a good deal of forgetting. Not ready for testing, but I will be a regular reader. We go to Holy Trinity here in G'town, and I teach at G'town Univ. Any chances we will meet?

  7. Found a reference to your Blog on Facebook. I've lost two aunts to Alzheimer's. A few days ago a friend was telling me of both her father and step mother both of whom she has just moved from New Mexico to AZ where we live in Prescott. I asked her if, at any point, he realized he had the disease. She didn't really know. I've often wondered about the disease from the perspective of the person with it. So I appreciate this blog and will follow your journey. I'm a 1944 kid.

  8. Anonymous7/06/2013

    I moved my parents in with us 2 years ago & Mother has Alz-it has been a life changing experience...I do it because they were wonderful parents to me growing up & I respect & love them. Our household is from ages 9-83 so we have alot of fun keeping all ages happy!! Mother (80) seems content most of the time & still plays the piano-Gods Blessings to all Family Caregivers!

    1. Yes! Many blessing to all Family Caregivers.

  9. Anonymous7/06/2013

    My husband and I loved the poem. It was so relevant to where we are in his journey. We were not offended at all about the graphics. Sometime we really do need to lighten up about Alzheimers. Thanks to you, we have both stopped referring to my husbands dementia as "Memory Loss" and have started calling it what it is--Alzheimer's Disease. If we all keep it under wraps, there will always be a stigma. We try to laugh whenever we can--especially when my husband forgets something silly or shows up for bed in July with his winter pajamas. Often, though, the laughter turns to tears.

    1. Thank you for referring to your husband's disease as Alzheimer's. It certainly helps your part of the world to destigmatize Alzheimer's, and I hope you feels the blessings from it, too.

  10. Anonymous7/08/2013

    Interesting...I'm familiar with this poem and always considered it poignant rather than light or humorous. Thank you for sharing your journey.


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