On my mum’s 79th birthday last week, I asked her if she felt old. She said she couldn’t feel old, because she couldn’t remember how old she was. Her memory is like that. Little pieces of vital information just slip through holes when she needs them. It’s strange though. She can hold the same conversation three times in half an hour without noticing it, yet she can still do crosswords, even cryptic ones and spell long words out loud. Her sense of humour hasn’t faded at all.
The brain is a strange thing. A couple of years after we got married, P had an accident on his motorbike just outside our house. Being a tough Aussie farmer, he wasn’t wearing a helmet, so his head injuries were severe. The only person he even vaguely recognised when he regained consciousness was his mother.
The doctors told me he’d never be able to remember much. He’d probably not even remember his own name for three months. Yet when I went to the hospital the next morning, he knew who I was. Three days later, he still couldn’t remember what date his own birthday was, yet he could tell his dad exactly what chemical he’d sprayed on what paddock (with quantities per acre) only the week before.
The doctors said he’d be in hospital for at least a month. He signed himself out after a week. Two months later he had a neuropsychological test. The doctor who did it said that if he’d got those results after two years he would have said P had made a miraculous recovery, but after two months, the word ‘miracle’ didn’t cover it.
Today P has no problems at all...although he will use it as an excuse if he forgets something I’ve asked him to do. So why did he recover so well and others don’t? Why can Mum do some quite complex thinking, yet forgets her grandchildren’s names? I don’t know. But watching Mum lose her memory is like watching P’s recovery in reverse. Sad.
This is a poem I wrote :
The Long Goodbye
We watch you slowly walk away,
beckoned by the thief
who leads you.
In the evening light,
distant stars shine brightly,
but closer suns have lost their flame.
We call to you,
dragging on your hands to slow you down.
But our words
run like water through your fingers
and you shake your head.
You know us still,
Your humour sparks our laughter
But the present holds a joy that quickly dies.
How long before you wave
and turn the corner,
leaving us, strangers?