Herb Bryce and his wife Ann in happier times. Contributed

Herb Bryce and his wife Ann in happier times. Contributed

Coping with Alzheimer’s through poetry

Maple Ridge author Herb Bryce’s struggle with his wife’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is documented in his first book of poetry called Chasing a Butterfly.

When Herb Bryce’s wife Ann was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he didn’t know how to cope.

He sank into a depression until he discovered an introductory course about the disease.

Every session, 30 or more people would sit around a table, each person taking a turn to explain their situation and say how they were coping.

But Bryce would choke up and become tongue tied.

Until he started to write poems.

At first, he would write a few lines, then a verse. Nothing that he thought was poetry, but it got him through each session.

As the course progressed, though, he started writing more and more, eventually learning to cope and turning his life around.

Now Bryce has compiled his poems into his first book of poetry called Chasing a Butterfly.

“A lot of poems [in the book] relate to any disease in the sense that you are coping with similar things,” explained Bryce.

In the first instance, he added, you hardly recognize the disease, then you go into denial.

“This is just her being forgetful, or absent minded or thinking of something else. But then it gets serioius. Then you have to face it,” he said.

His wife first started showing signs of early Alzheimer’s in 2003.

In 2012, she was put into Holyrood Manor in Maple Ridge. In February 2016, she passed away.

Bryce’s poetry documents his struggle right until her death.

“Eventually you have to learn to say goodbye,” he said, although he still feels the pain of her passing more than a year later.

One of his favourite poems in the book is called She’s Lost, a brief poetic rundown of the stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The poem begins:

She’s lost all her nouns, she’s misplaced them all.

We’ve searched for them, for she talks with a scrawl,

But names are all blank and things are hand signs,

Then it all proves futile and we end up with sighs.”

Then Bryce goes on to explain that she’s lost all her verbs, her directions, her instructions and her family’s faces.

The poem was a turning point for Bryce.

“That was when my poetry became pretty good poetry,” he said.

Bryce also feels deeply connected to the title poem Chasing A Butterfly.

“Because when Ann was going through these certain stages of Alzheimer’s she was flitting about like a butterfly and I couldn’t escape the reference,” Bryce said.

Bryce writes a blog two days a week at hwbrycewrites.com and he gets feedback from people all over the world including Australia, Switzerland and India.

People can relate to the poems and tell him continuously how his poetry has helped them.