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Using poetry to fill in the blanks: A writer's battle against memory loss

Owen Neill rediscovered his love of the written word following Alzheimers diagnosis
Published author Owen Neill is reclaiming his passion for writing poetry after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2018. James Hopkin/SooToday

Owen Neill is using the power of poetry and prose in a bid to not forget.

The retired teacher has lived at Pathways Retirement Residence for two years, where he works with the Alzheimer Society of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District twice a week in an effort to help him navigate the onset of the progressive disease.

“I’ve been trying to adjust to my age bracket and living in an old folks home,” said Neill. “I found myself having a battle with doing it.”

“When I was younger, I never had a problem - when I had an idea, I just carried it out.”

Neill originally moved to Sault Ste. Marie from Thunder Bay in 1950 to pursue a career in teaching, having spent time at F.H. Clergue, Central Algoma Secondary and Bawating Collegiate and Vocational School before retiring from teaching in 1984.  

Following retirement, Neill decided to pursue his love of writing full-time.

Since then he’s had 16 of his books published, and in 2002 he received the Acorn Award from the Durham Council for the Arts in Oshawa, Ont. and was declared that region’s poet laureate.

“I’ve got articles that I haven’t published, I keep writing little articles so I don’t forget all these things,” Neill said. “When the idea comes to me or something stimulates me, I sit down and write about it. Just tuck it away.”

“I’ve got all kinds of prose books, but most of my work has been poetry.”

Neill began losing the drive to write, due in no small part to developing Alzheimer’s.

But over the past couple of years, Neill has been finding his way into the world of writing again with the help of his recreation therapist from the local chapter of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

He now has nearly 40 poems written since he began working with the organization, many of them dealing with aging.   

The following is one of Neill’s most recent works:


I don’t quite remember where I was
a moment ago before we met
I know I was waiting by myself
for whom or why never quite set


until you appeared
and touched my shoulder.
Surprise, surprise! I am back again!
And you are with me still as if for ever
our lives continuing like just another rain.


What are all those blanks I seem to recall
now gone somewhere never explained,
but somehow remembered when I awaken
like this morning’s sudden rush
to stay regained.


Strange, don’t you think? I do!

“It’s encouraged me to think more about my own personal growing old,” Neill told SooToday. “I’ve written all these poems about what it’s like – it’s just broadened my scope of understanding old age and my own personal problems, as well as Alzheimer’s in general.”


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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