Rachel my friend, the poet, the beautiful person I adored, Alzheimer’s didn’t win. You stayed resilient through your fight against this disease, but it didn’t define you. Diagnosed in 2012, the farm girl from central Illinois, thought she lost her muse, she could no longer write the beautiful words that poured from her soul. She wanted to ride in a hot air balloon; she wanted to wear a genuine turquoise necklace and walk in the fields of Ireland. She wrote about it in her last poem:
Why should this be
so different from sixty-nine?
I am poised on the slippery slope
of the seventh decade
Ghosts of unmet goals mock me.
Ticks of Time
spiral off into a
world of mundane minutia.
I bring out an old dream
to rise beneath taut silken folds
of color into a blue enamel sky.
Feel the hot flame fueling
Above my head. It will burn
away my fear of a diminished self.
And yet there may be time
to place a genuine turquoise
necklace around my neck
And walk the fields of Ireland.
A few years back, Rachel was in our Early Stage class and I learned of her book of poetry, The Eden Tree, A Collection of Poems. I was so taken with her work that I bought the teens who were part of our Walk to End Alzheimer’s Youth Committee, a copy of the book and then arranged a meeting where they could meet her. Each teenager chose one of her poems, and at a meeting I had planned for them, with drinks and cupcakes, they each read her one of her poems. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. They shared with her what they thought she meant by the poems and how it affected them. She was deeply touched and they were forever changed by a woman who would be forever etched in their minds. They will tell their kids about her someday, I am certain. After the meeting they named their Youth Walk Committee, Ticks of Time.
I learned a lot from Rachel. She called me last year when she needed help. “I love my caregiver” she said, “but she wants to do everything for me.” “She goes to the store without me and then tells me to go in and watch TV, and she will take care of dinner.” “I AM STILL HERE!” she cried. “To make it worse, my husband wants me to go to the gym and work out, which I can no longer do. I get lost in the locker room and everyone stares at me.” She went on to say, “One of them thinks I can’t do anything anymore, and the other expects way too much from me.” She asked me to come over to her home and play referee. I used this as a teaching moment to help everyone appropriately understand her cognitive and physical abilities. Everyone adjusted and she lived another year. We lost her this summer to Alzheimer’s, but it never defined her.
She never took the balloon ride, and she never saw Ireland, but she lived a good life; a wonderful wife and a wonderful mother. She was a friend and a beautiful soul who never gave in; she never gave up.
I will always remember you Rachel Zeiner. You were loved.