First of all, thanks for all the helpful advice re the dilemma I had a few weeks ago over dad’s love letters. In the end, I did tell mum I’d found them. She seemed to be having a good day and was quite like her old self so I told her I’d been sorting things out and had come across a box of letters from dad.
Immediately, her face lit up. ‘I kept them!’ she said, so she knew exactly what I meant. I asked if she’d like to have them with her and she said she would. But when I took them in, she wasn’t having a good day. When I showed them to her, she didn’t know what they were. She didn’t recognise the box and the letters didn’t seem to have any resonance for her at all, even when I pointed out her old address and the war-time postage stamps. When I showed her my baby photo she asked, ‘Who’s that? It looks familiar.’
Luckily, I found her lack of recognition amusing. I have after all changed quite a bit over the years.
It seems the only babies mum cares about these days are my brother’s children. Ever since her first fall she’s been living in a time warp of nearly 35 years ago at a time when brother’s first wife tragically died and, for a while, his young, motherless children were cared for by their grandparents. And so Mum asks continually if the children are ok? They’re upstairs, she says, but they haven’t made any noise. I did ask if ‘the children’ were me and my brother, but no, it seems she does mean her grandchildren.
It’s obvious she’s returned to an event which must have been deeply concerning for her. So, I reassure her that the children are fine. They are in their own home. Then I add: they are grown-up now with children of their own. In fact, the babies who come to see you are not my brother’s children but his grandchildren!
Last week, my niece turned 40. I got mum to sign her birthday card. Mum shook her head in wonderment. ‘40! Granddaughter is 40!’ Then she said, ‘The mind is a strange thing. It’s like I am living two different times at the same time and they get muddled up and meld together.’
I found this an incredibly lucid comment. And a possible window into what it’s like to have dementia.
I told her: you’re like someone time-travelling with Dr Who in the Tardis. Sometimes being in the present while simultaneously, being in the past. As she’s a fan of Dr Who, this made her smile.
These days, as I live alone and am somewhat isolated, I often think about the past even if it’s simply on the level of: how on earth did I get myself into this situation? And I’ve found certain memories isolate themselves and continually reoccur – apparently, they’re still very much alive in my subconscious. However, I do know that they are memories. Similarly, when I see a photo taken 40 years ago, I know it’s a photo of me yet at the same time, it’s a photo of someone who’s not me anymore.
For mum, it’s not simply that she’s lost her short-term memory. Her memories, especially ones that are particularly meaningful, seem to have pushed themselves into the centre of her reality and are replaying themselves as if they are happening now. And she can’t separate the past from the present.
But it was interesting she could grasp the concept of a dual universe; of the fact that she’s living in concurrent realities. But of course, the next time the subject comes up she’ll have forgotten all about our conversation and will ask me once again whether I’ve seen my father or if the children are all right?