Monday, 2 March 2009

Memory and growing old.

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.
Remember when?

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?
K.Stewart 2008


Rena said...

That's a beautiful poem, Kate. It definitely means something to me. My mom is in a nursing home, after having some very severe strokes several years ago. She's been unable to speak, eat or move around much. Sad thing is, she has been fully aware of what's going on. Even more sad is that she spent her entire career working as a nurse in a nursing home, and now she's a patient herself. Just the other day I got news that she isn't responding like she had been, so we're not sure what's going on with it. Like you, it's very hard to watch sometimes, especially when there's nothing else you can do.

Thank you for posting your poem.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful poem, Kate! It's so hard to see someone you love slip away.
Warm Regards,

Kate said...

Rena, sorry to hear about your mom. My prayers are with you and her.

Melanie, thanks.

Megs said...

Lovely poem, Katie.

I dread those future days when I think about my parents who are both getting up in age. Our roles have changed - instead of me relying on them for help. I'm now looking for ways to help them. And they sometimes have their silly moments. But they still know me and they are still the same people they've always been - if a bit more admirable and lovable.

Anyway - I absolutely love the picture you posted to the right of the text.

Lily Cate said...

Aww, Kate.
Both of my husband's grandfathers are going through this right now. They each have much more advanced cases.
One of the last people my father in law's father remebered was our son, who he's only seen once, when he was one year old. Since he began to deteriorate,his wife has passed on, quite quickly, and he doesn't even know she is gone.

Yet he seems quite content, so it's hard to know if this is better for him, even though it's harder on us.

Goldie said...

Hi! Kate - I'm a long time commenting on this post, but it's been on my mind and here I am at last. What a beautiful poem you have written. I just love it!

My dad is 84 years old and exactly the same as your mum except Dad doesn't do cryptic crosswords. Old people have a dignity that a little loss of memory doesn't erase, don't you think? After all they have so much life experience to make them wise.I hope your mum keeps in good health. My dad has been in hospital these last two weeks and is going home today.