15 March

Visiting Mary Kellogg. To Be Honest, It Was Sad

by Jon Katz

I remember sitting on my porch at the first Bedlam Farm with Mary Kellogg in 2006. I had just met her and we became fast friends – one of the few friends from them I have kept and cherished.

Mary came over to honor me by showing me the first poems she had ever written, she started writing poetry when she was eleven and hid this from everyone in her life, including her beloved husband Dick, because she thought people would think her strange.

She had heard that poets were strange.

I loved her poems, I showed them to my then friend Maria and we decided that no matter what, we would get them published. We did, and four other volumes of poetry as well.

Mary was always an inspiration to me. Her husband had died much earlier of Alzheimer’s Disease – she cared for him for 10 years, he never spent a night away from home.

Mary lived on their very remote 30 acre farm for more than 30 years, she loved every bit of the farmhouse, and every wildflower and bird and deer that came by or grew near.

She relished the life of the poet, and was happiest sitting up in her room writing about the life of a farm, the challenges of aging, the value of independence. Everyone in her life wondered why she stayed alone on that farm, but I knew. Mary didn’t just talk about what it meant to be an independent woman, she lived it.

Every year including last year, Mary came to our Open House and read her poems.  She so cherished her time as a published poet.

She stayed in that farm – often without electricity and running water, lightning loved that hill – until she fell down suddenly and broke her hip last fall. Her family moved her to a rehab center and then to an adult care center. Her hip has healed, but she struggles with memory loss and confusion.

Most days she understands that she can no longer live on that farm, but she wishes she could go back once to see it. The people who care for Mary are not sure that would be a good idea right now, but if and when they approve, Maria and I will be happy to take her there.

Her family is loving and dedicated to her, I trust them completely to make the right decisions for her, decisions she knows she can no longer really make.

I would so love to take her back to the farm for at least one more look, But I am not the best one to make that decision. If I can, I will.

She was so glad to see us she cried, the first time we have ever seen her shed a tear.

We spent many evenings on that farm, walked with Mary in the woods, saw the wildflowers she loved, praised her wonderful garden.

Mary is sad, she misses her farm every minute, she understands it is no longer possible for her to live there, she says she is more confused every day and is fighting to contain it. She has a loving family, some of whom live nearby now, and who visit her often. The home she is in is an excellent place – the staff is loving and attentive, she loves the food, and she has everything she needs.

That is, everything but her life back. Aging is difficult, especially in a culture that keeps people alive well beyond their ability to care for themselves, and then leaves them to their fate.

So Mary was sad, and we were sad. The most independent human being we ever met is dependent, and her dilemma – the drama of so many older people – is that she has forgotten much and remembers much.

Mary had a wonderful life, she is 88 years old and still has a lot of memories to cherish. Including the day we sat together on my porch and I read her poems. That changed both of our lives.

5 Comments

  1. In 30 years of working with seniors the largest truth I have learned is That the people who have had the least amount of change in their lives have the greatest difficulty coping with aging.
    Your life, Jon, serves as an example the antithesis. Embrace, and practice, change. It is the one thing we can all count on.

    1. So true Jeanne. My least emotionally resilient friend has had the most charmed life.

      My son has seen two very different parents – one who resists change with a vengeance, one who “pivoted” (as the young folk say). I’m not sure what it is like to see a parent grow spiritually and really awake, but my children are getting that perspective and I hope it serves them well. Beats the alternative old talk and listening to adults constantly degrade the current world for the past.

  2. When my grandmother was losing her memory she often spoke about her childhood home and how she wished she could visit the town of her youth once more. This place was actually in another part of the country and very much changed. Her daughter (my aunt) wrote to everyone in the family and asked if they had photos of the house and town at the time my grandmother lived there . There were a number of relatives who had photos and they were able to put together an album of the house and many locations my grandmother would have been familiar with. My grandmother was over joyed when she saw the collection and she spent a part of everyday going through the album until she died. Maybe you could bring Mary photos of her old farm as a substitute for an actual visit? It’s not the same as the real thing but it will certainly trigger some happy memories. Peace to all.

    1. I’ll have to check with her doctors and aides about that, Dina, frankly, it isn’t clear what would be helpful and what might make matters worse. I thank you for the thought tho.

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