From the opening sentence of Esther Helfgott’s memoir, when her husband says, "I don't know where I am," the reader is pulled into this beautiful, raw, heart-wrenching account of their journey through Alzheimer's. This is a must read, not only for the millions of families affected by this horrific disease, but also for anyone dealing with the terminal illness of a loved one. Ms. Helfgott helps us learn that hardest lesson of all—how to let go and say goodbye.
Herein the only kind of language that will dare to enter imaginatively into its own, and our own disintegration – poetry - Esther teaches us what it means to have the courage to let go of what was, to let in what still is, and to let a new way of being us BE in the world. Entering into this dis-ease with Esther’s imagination has awakened me to the inestimably precious gift that we give each other when we meet each other, in love, in the midst of life's unraveling."
Michael Verde, Founder and President of Memory Bridge: The Foundation for Alzheimer’s and Cultural Memory"
An honest and touching renderingof an intricate and personal time/space altering experience expressed beautifully in diary and poetry. This book offers great benefit to caregivers, friends and professionals whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease.
This powerful and poignant memoir takes us through the labyrinth of loss and life that is Alzheimer’s and in doing so it raises questions about the nature of ‘self’ and of relationship. The book is drenched in a beauty that comes out of prolonged but contained pain. It is a book to savor, one through which to meander with an open questioning mind, and a curiosity both about what it is like to be the carer of a loved one who struggles with a life changing event and what it is like to be the one who is changing.
Elisabeth Hanscombe, Unit for Studies in Biography and Autobiography, LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Thisbook charts the inner life of caregiver as poet. Esther provides witness and a map into Abe’s dementia. She says the diary has always been her friend. She offers us friendship and an open heart’s knowledge. Their story guides us to understand what it means to love.
It takes a courageous person to write honestly and tenderly about the Alzheimer’s journey. Esther’s poetry does just that, taking us by the hand and leading us through the joys and sorrows of living life with a progressive, fatal disease."
PRAISEFOR LISTENING TO MOZART: POEMS OF ALZHEIMER'S (Cave Moon Press, 2014)
Following her moving memoir, Dear Alzheimer’s, about living with the gradual loss of her husband, Esther Altshul Helfgott’s Listening to Mozart is a fitting and lovely companion collection that both takes the reader through her grieving and celebrates the husband she’s lost. From the new widow’s first angry bewilderment (you must be busy/ —what are you doing/that’s so important) to her gradual coming to terms, she vividly conveys how alive the dead are after they’ve left us with their enormous absence.
-Anne Pitkin, author of Winter Arguments (Ahadada Books, 2011)
This bouquet of short poems, many in the spirit of tanka, radiates the sharp and sad fragrance of loss. Esther Altshul Helfgott's words move in their own breezy yet telling way, reminiscent of Japanese forms, yet never limiting themselves. These are poems of a deep yet passing grief.
Esther writes gracefully and honestly to her husband, Abe. The healing from this loss is ongoing and you experience her continued love, her longing, her pain, along with her acceptance of that loss. You’ll grow to love Abe too - their friendship, their marriage, their partnership - as you read the bursts of poetry, short but powerful and sharp .”
Esther Altshul Helfgott uses the melody of daily life -- waking, looking in the mirror, eating, going to the library or bookstore -- to give the reader the feeling of what it is like to keep going after her husband died of Alzheimer’s. In Listening to Mozart, using tanka (short songs)and free verse poetry, she gives the reader not just a sense of her husband, but also a sense of what it is like to miss him. This is a gift.
- David Rice, Editor Ribbons, Tanka Society of America Journal
Informed by her husband Abe’s Alzheimer’s disease, Esther’s poems share the pain and poignancy of life after his death. Listening to Mozart takes the reader on a journey of loss; tragic and beautiful, these poems like miniature portraits capturing the small moments remaining: you left / I stayed—moon /watches/ both of us— / day doesn't. Questions, understanding, and the details of how to live without another center this book—I know you / more / now you’re gone—leaving us with the remarkable realization that relationships don’t ever end, they just change form.
Each poem in Listening to Mozart reminds us that grieving is a process unfolding in the simplicity of a given moment. Esther Altshul Helfgott’s attentiveness to the details of daily life elevates these short, poignant poems to mindful meditations on memory, ritual, creativity, and healing. It is the transformative nature of art, the act of writing that can sustain us through the process: I write you / onto the page / how else / to keep you with me… Listening to Mozart is a beautifully constructed memorial reminding us that entire galaxies can be found in the face of a grandchild. Helfgott’s own insightful lines encapsulate the power of her collection: I was just writing / and love came out…
Esther shows us life is as simple as sleeping back to back and as complex as replacing tears with poems. She is our poet of memory and poet of loss of memory. When she describes seeing Abe’s handwriting and reaching for her heart we all carry that heart in our hearts.
– Gary Glazner, Founder and Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and author of Dementia
Arts: Celebrating Creativity in Elder Care (Health Professional Press, 2014)
Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D.
Psychoanalytic Research and Biography
My work focuses on the Viennese-born Seattle psychoanalyst, Edith Buxbaum, Ph.D. (1902 - 1982). This includes research into other psychoanalytic personalities who may have touched Edith's life, or mine. All give me a greater sense of what psychoanalysis started out to be in the nineteenth-century - a white European social reform movement - and what it has come to be in the twenty-first century - a medicalized therapeutic modality for the upper classes.
My husband was ill for a full decade. I took care of him the best I could. My Alzheimer's books tell some of the story.