How Many Cattle Do You Keep?

A very personal poem.  My mum died of Alzheimer’s, and I wrote about her in my poem ‘So Many Years’.  And now my dad has dementia as well…


“How many cattle do you keep?”

A question posed to me,

Who am a town dweller,

By my ninety four year old dad,

Himself, though rural raised,

An urbanite for over sixty years.


For my dad has dementia now,

For these several years back,

And an awful reprise of mum,

Who herself had Alzheimer’s,

And didn’t know us at the end,

But burbled into a happy place.


I watch as he sits and fidgets.

No real purpose to his actions,

And a vagueness in his eyes.

His world has receded:  a room,

Pleasant enough, a window view,

A public lounge – he calls the ‘club’.


For he resides now in a care home,

And the staff are great, thank God,

And his general needs are met,

Though personal privacy is no more,

And he mixes with other residents,

Whose behaviour is… challenging.


He’s mislaid the last ten years.

And London rarely gets a mention,

Though home for fifty plus years.

He talks of Ireland and the old days,

Happy times of simple plenitude,

His parents, and the kin long dead.


Even so, his rich tales of lang syne,

Have shrunk to disconnected stuff:

Names, fragments of this and that.

I answer his ceaseless questions,

Only to hear them moments later,

As if he never heard nor understood.


A real fear is gripping him – paranoia

Stemming from God alone knows what.

Something released by dementia’s hold?

I struggle to reassure him all is well:

His increasing deafness compounding

A manifest comprehension lost.


And when it comes, as it surely will,

That he knows me no more, and

Worse, knows not himself any more;

When that time comes, perhaps soon,

Where will he be, this man my dad,

Who raised us in truth and honesty?


His body may live but where is soul?

Where is the person when the mind,

Decayed beyond any conscious ken,

Is barely able to keep motor function?

Is it perhaps crueller on us who watch,

Than the one who lingers in the void?


His faith in God resonates still:

Our Fathers, Hail Marys come unbidden.

Yet where is peace and consolation?

Perhaps it’s there in his quiet moments,

And his healing is beyond my ken as

He waits for the ultimate healing:  death.