An interview with Esther Altshul Helfgott:
Q: You said your husband has Alzheimer’s and that you are his caregiver. Did you begin writing after he contracted the disease?
A: No, I’ve been writing all my life, not just to survive a particularly traumatic time but in order to know what I am thinking and feeling, to know who I am. Writing has always been my way of figuring out how environment and familial context, say, work for me. When I’m stuck on a problem, I dialogue with myself; record my dreams, dialogue with others on the page, and record my interaction with other writers’ words on the page. I respond to my reading in my journal. I love that; it helps me know the author better and myself in relation to what I’m reading. I complain on the page, I complain a lot but nobody sees that part of me. Not that I don’t complain off the page, in real life, but not as much. I get my complaints and anger out in my journal/diary, whatever you want to call it.
In the case of my husband’s illness, my writing saves me, probably both of us, because it calms me down, centers me to do the hard stuff I have to do, whether I like it or not. You have to take care of someone you love and the tasks are not always easy or fun. So in order to do them, to get some release from the mean stuff that life divvies out, I write write write and write some more. It’s all I know to do. Perhaps if I could sing or dance I’d be doing that but writing is all that comes naturally to me, so that’s what I do. I really wanted to learn to play the piano and to tap dance but I don’t have the patience anymore than I have the patience to cook or sew. I have patience to write and read, that’s all, and more patience to write than to read.
My writing about my husband’s illness has taken the poem form, as it often does, because in poem I am able to write out my fears and sadness. The Alzheimer’s poems are very sad but as I told someone in one of the writing groups I’m in, if I couldn’t write my sadness out in poems, I probably wouldn’t be able to laugh when I’m not writing. I do my crying in the poems, then I can move on, do what I have to do.
Q: What type of writing do you do?
Read the rest of the interview here