When I was about 10, my father took us to a small country hospital to visit our paternal great-grandmother. She was a tiny shrivelled up old woman. She called my father ‘Ray’; his father’s name. My father told us that his grandmother had lost her mind and had gone backwards into childhood. We stood around the edge of her cot staring at the strange little woman in bed with her dolls.
Now, it is his turn. My father is going insane; dementia, Alzheimer’s, whatever it’s called. He drifts in and out of reality. Sometimes he recognises us, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he knows we are related to him but is not entirely sure how. His five children, especially his four daughters, have amalgamated into one daughter. He wanders the house looking for my mother, asking her where she is and then returning to say “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you”.
His insanity seems to have moved rapidly. The shock of losing his granddaughter twisted his mind into a vessel ready for dementia. Shock does horrible things to people.
My maternal grandmother eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Her brain finally forgot to instruct her to breathe. She ended her days in a nursing home, lying on a bed, not moving. My mother is already preparing for her turn by making my sister and I her guardians.
I guess it will be my turn one day. Living a longer life often means the deterioration of reason as well as the body. I’m not sure that a long life is necessarily a good life. And it is not my purpose or intent to live a long life.
My father is a nice man. He is popular in the small community where he lives. When he is lost, people bring him home. I cannot complain about him as a father but I have never had much of a relationship with him so now that he is unable to hold a conversation, it makes little difference to me. Some of my other siblings feel differently because they did have conversations with him before but I have never had much in common with my father; and that is no one’s fault, it is simply the way it is.
People say that it must be horrible to watch my father’s mind self-destruct. I think it is horrible for my mother to watch the man she has been married to for more than 50 years become someone she does not know and who does not know her. My father has gone. In his place stands an old man who needs to be taken care of but he is not the father I know.
Since my daughter’s death, I have often desired insanity to invade my mind. I have probably, at times, been insane. I have definitely been disturbed and I am sure that I was in shock for more than a year.
I do not fear insanity. I think it is worse for those who are left to watch the madness claim their loved one. It is not so bad for the insane – although, there is frustration and confusion as they flit in and out from the sane to the insane.
I quote Cormac McCarthy on the About Hunter Soledad page of my blog –
“He knew how frail is the memory of loved ones. How we close our eyes and speak to them. How we long to hear their voices once again, and how those voices and those memories grow faint and faint until what was flesh and blood is no more than echo and shadow. In the end perhaps not even that.” Cormac McCarthy, ‘Cities of the Plain’, The Border Trilogy, p. 937, 2002, London.
Memories are flighty concepts to grasp. They fade and merge into one another. They hide in the depths of your mind and wrestle you as you try to retrieve them. I used to wake each morning and repeat every aspect of Clea’s life that I could remember. Now, I wake with Clea in my mind and strive to conjure her back into my life. She is never far away.
It would be my dream come true to return to the time when my daughter was with me. That is when I would like it to end. I would like to die right at that time. The dilemma is that by the time that I am at the ‘right’ stage of insanity, I would be too insane to make the decision to end my life. By that stage, probably, I would not care.