Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Do I Write?

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Did I mention that I love to write? Way back in my teens, I began writing for family members (usually problem-solving or product complaint letters). And as the oldest of nine children, there was lots of writing to be done. Years later, I helped friends and co-workers with their college writing assignments and business correspondence. I became the go-to person at work for punctuation, spelling and grammar. Most recently, I edited college application essays for a friend’s child, which I really enjoyed. (Of course, it wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable had the kid not been an excellent writer to begin with.)

During all those years, the refrain from those who knew me well was, “You really should write a book.” They thought that the collection of crazy things that had occurred in my life would make a good story. I used to laugh that one off, thinking it an absurd idea. Now, though, it doesn’t sound as ridiculous, and I’m actually considering it.

Then 10 years ago, I became a hospice volunteer, one who spends time with patients at the end of their lives while family members run errands or go to church or just escape for a while. Hospice has been a rich experience for me, unmatched in the depth of feelings it provokes. I have learned so very much from my patients and the families.

A few years into volunteering, I was assigned a patient in a nursing home dementia ward. On hearing about the dementia, I’m sure my disappointment was audible over the phone. After all, I’m the volunteer who can talk with anyone about pretty much anything, and the time just flies by. But how was I going to deal with someone who might not even understand what I said, much less take part in a conversation?

Well, the visit was absolutely overwhelming. The patient kept asking for her husband over and over again. She asked me to call her a cab, because she didn’t know where she was and wanted desperately to go home. (She’d been there at least six months.) She cried and said she knew her husband wouldn’t leave her alone in a strange place and offered to pay me to drive her home. She kept calling his name and asking me to look for him, since he just had to be there. This went on over and over again until I just couldn’t take another minute. I was supposed to be with her for two hours, but I left shortly after the first hour. And I sat in my car and cried for about 15 minutes, thinking there was no way I’d be back.

But, of course, I went back. And to help me cope, I started taking notes about the experience. I didn’t even know why I was writing stuff down, only that I needed to get my feelings out and that the writing helped. Fortunately, over the next few weeks, medication adjustments were made, and my patient became much less anxious. Her fantastic sense of humor shone through the fog of her memories, along with amazing moments of lucidity, and she was a delight.

After not that many weeks, other patients began showing up in their wheelchairs when I arrived for my visits. I had a group of regulars who all came with their unique behaviors and contributions to the sometimes lively conversations. And some of them were touchingly funny, so I wrote about much of what they said and did. I decided that one day I’d like to write a screenplay about dementia. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll write it, but there’s a way to portray the devastation of the disease, along with glimpses of the patients’ tender humor and yearning for love and affection. So far, all I’ve done with this idea is to buy a book on screenwriting.

So that’s why I write - I want to do a book and a screenplay. Just don’t know yet when it’ll happen. Wish me luck!


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