More than a decade ago, Judy Prescott’s life took a dramatic turn when her aging mother Cecy began exhibiting signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As a way of coping, Judy began chronicling her mother’s slow descent into dementia through a series of poems. The resulting book, Searching for Cecy, is a compilation of 9 years worth of personal, reflective poetry on a disease that affects approximately 5.4 million Americans and their caregivers.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: Well, I started the poems about 9 years ago as a way to understand what was going on with my mom and her journey with Alzheimer’s. I live in Los Angeles, and my mom is in Maine, so I’m so far away. I would leave her and go back to L.A., and I’d feel all these emotions, trying to figure out what was going on. So these poems chronicle a 9-year period of her disease and show our journey – her journey and mine.
Q: How did writing help you cope with your mother’s disease?
A: It was my way of talking through what was going on. Her condition was totally out of control, and I couldn’t stop this disease, so writing helped me to understand and helped me to find peace ultimately. After I’d write, I’d look at it and go, ‘Wow, OK.’ I wanted to find the beauty in what was going on. I always managed to find beauty, some sort of common theme and some humanity in what was going on, which helped me.
Q: What one poem sticks out to you as the most meaningful?
There’s one poem in particular I think that gives you the idea of me trying to accept [my mother’s disease]. It’s called Proof [on page 13].
Q: How does living so far away from your mother affect the dynamic?
A: It was so difficult. Before I had my daughter – I have a 5 year-old daughter – I used to go once a month, or once every two months and live in her facility, in the dementia ward, and watch the people and understand them and live with them. It was really an amazing experience. After my daughter, I couldn’t go as often, and I think it was maybe only the only way that I learned to care for myself and stop running to help at every second, and to realize that other people could do what I was doing. It wasn’t about me, it was about her and her journey. I had to learn to let go. And I think that, in the book, that was what I finally learned. It’s not about me.
Q: What was your mom like before the disease?
A: She was really funny. She used to write these funny poems. She was amazing. She could do the New York Times crossword in an hour or two. She’d just be done. She was so smart and clever, and just a lot of fun. What a change to see her now. But there’s a peace that she has now. It’s very different. Early in her disease, there was so much fear, so much stress, and everything was so unsettled. I feel so happy that she’s found some peace.
Q: Are there any plans to write more poetry in the future?
A: I just started again. I stopped because I knew if I kept writing I’d never finish this. But I’ve been writing again, different types of poetry, and I’m just about to start writing about my mom again. I’ve written since I was a kid, so it’s my way of coping.