Today’s post is written by Nicole Markert, one of our Caregiving Advice team members. She’s a published poet, enjoys reading manga, and has a black belt in karate. You can read her caregiving story here.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed by caregiving responsibilities, it’s normal to seek solace in something beyond yourself, something that resonates with your own experiences and struggles.
Caregiving, while it is an act of love, can be draining and hard. It’s normal to want to turn to a community or shared experiences with other caregivers to make yourself feel less alone.
Literature, and more specifically poetry, has become a mode of communication where people can share their own stories, but also help others by sharing them. There are poems and collections that specifically pertain to caregiving, but there are also poems that capture the common moods one may feel while taking care of a loved one: feelings like hope, grief, loneliness, solitude, and more.
Here are some poems and collections that may speak to you in your caregiving experience:
The Caregiver: Poems by Caroline Johnson
The first collection in our list is The Caregiver: Poems by Caroline Johnson. Its creation was inspired by the 15 years Johnson spent caring for her aging parents. It includes free verse, lyrical, prose, and formal poems. In this collection, she touches upon many of the emotional and physical struggles that caregivers often experience, capturing the raw emotions of unconditional love and grief.
One poem titled “The Last Bed” was written after Johnson viewed Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed, and the speaker in the poem speaks directly to her own father: “And who will deliver your Emancipation Proclamation? Will I be holding your cold, / frail hand when you decide to leave this land?”
“Hope” is the thing with feathers” (314) by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is arguably one of the most notable poets in literary history, and despite this poem being published in 1891, it still holds resonance today. While the subject matter of this short and sweet poem isn’t specifically about caregiving, the poem captures the premise of hope, a feeling that many caregivers need to find and hold onto, especially during tough times.: “Hope” is the thing with feathers -/ That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – /And never stops – at all -”
Dementia Blog by Susan M. Schultz
Dementia Blog by Susan M. Schultz is a powerful yet experimental collection that takes the form of a blog. It’s written forward in time but also reads backwards to capture the fragmented progression of her mother’s own dementia. Using her family’s personal tragedy as a gateway, she makes great philosophical and social observations. This collection is tragic yet beautiful in the way it captures dementia.
“If I didn’t write it down, it’s shhhhh”: On Writing Dementia, Edited by Susan M. Schultz
This next grouping of poetry is not a typical collection, but rather an online feature on EOAGH of multiple poets and poems edited by Susan M. Schultz, the author of Dementia Blog. It includes work from Schultz herself, Goro Takano, Hank Lazer, Beatriz Terrazas, Caroline Maun, Dr. Frederick London and Gary Glazner, and many more. Through many different voices, the feature captures many of the experiences which may bring comfort to caregivers whose loved ones have dementia.
Poems about Loneliness and Solitude, featured by The Poetry Foundation
Some poetry collections capture the wide array of emotions that many caregivers face in their everyday life. In this grouping of poems by The Poetry Foundation, you’ll find work by many notable writers such as Anne Carson, Edgar Allen Poe, and William Wordsworth (just to name a few). The collection offers a perspective of embracing feelings of loneliness and solitude—as they are completely natural and human.
“Apostrophe to My Sister’s New Lungs” by Kate Delany
This poem by Kate Delany, a college English professor, writer, and community activist, was actually first featured on Caregiving Advice, and can still be read here. This powerful poem captures the experience of Delany’s sister who lives with cystic fibrosis, and was written after she had received a lung transplant: “I will not think of you / as you were in the OR, / inert in a pan, a bulbous / beige sponge of blood.”
“You Brought Us Back” By David Solie
David Solie, author and public speaker on Aging Parents Insights, wrote a poem in honor of the well-known and well-loved poet Mary Oliver on her passing. While the poem is a nod to Oliver’s legacy and the life she lived, it can also be a gentle reminder to caregivers: “You brought us back / To earth and reminded / Us that was enough.”
Collected Poems and Translations by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson is a well-known writer of the mid-19th century transcendentalist movement whose content was very self-reflective in nature. While Emerson’s writing does not specifically pertain to caregivers, the meaning that can be taken away from his work is priceless, especially in regards to the feelings of guilt one may experience while taking care of a loved one: “Finish every day and be done with it. / You have done what you could. / Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. / Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day; / begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit / to be cumbered with your old nonsense.”
Maybe reading poetry isn’t the way you process your emotions about caregiving. Watch this video and learn more about the ways your personality type influences the way you care for others.