Part 2: ‘Mixing Memories’
One of my most beloved memories is that of gnarled hands plaiting my long, curly hair, fingers slowly sifting through tangles, gently unfurling errant curls, and tucking them neatly into the beginnings of a French plait. In my ear, the sound of my grandmother’s voice softly admonishes me, telling me to sit still if I want my French braid to turn out properly.
My grandmother was very good at French plaits, and, as her beloved youngest granddaughter, I took it upon myself to have my hair done whenever I could. It was one of the many perks that came with living with my grandmother, who was my principal caretaker during my childhood years, while my parents were off working and doing other adult things.
The memories have faded, gotten a little mixed up in my head, but there is always the reminder of a gentle voice, gentle hands, the best food, and impossible amounts of love that only grandmothers are capable of.
I was lucky to have my grandmother functioning, whole, of sound mind, for the better part of my formative years. Because, as I grew older, so did she; first, losing the use of her legs and then slowly, her grasp of memory, reality, and by extension, me.
The slow decline of an agile mind is a sad, terrible thing to witness.
First, the names start to disappear. Identity becomes a fluid thing, and so does time. The past superimposes itself onto the present, and so the behaviour changes.
Sometimes, there are moments of lucidity that are devastating; because, for one precious moment, there is remembrance, time shifts to its rightful place, and names have meaning again.
But like all moments, it too passes. Time continues to meander, and the mind travels to another place.
As I grew older, I watched my grandmother fumble as she consciously tried to make up for the loss of memory with a lot of love, but soon, even the fumbling stopped because the consciousness faded away into what I like to think was a quiet acceptance.
Sometimes, there are stories. My grandmother still remembers how to hold a conversation, and she recounts tales of her husband, my grandfather, the mythical figure I did not have the privilege to know. She holds my hands in hers, now even more gnarled, paper-thin skin resting gently against mine, and talks of years long-gone. Ever the eager listener, I write these stories down, tuck them safely away so that, one day, I may pass them on.
I see how my grandmother’s dementia affects my mother. The cheerful smiles, the repeated conversations, the role-playing between daughter and mother, one trying more valiantly than the other to reassure (but who, but who?) that nothing much has changed.
But a lot has changed. Now daughter has become mother. Now mother has become a child. Now children take the place of adults. And with the dogged tenacity that our humankind is known for, we adapt, albeit slowly.
I see my own mother struggle with the loss of memory. She has taken to writing things down more frequently now. I remind her of chores and errands through text messages so that there are fewer chances of her misplacing her notes. She regularly takes Ginko tablets and encourages me to do the same.
We find our own ways to cope.
And so, time passes, consciously. And as we make memories consciously and store them in safe spaces, we are aware that one day the mind, with its tendency to slip away, will bring these memories with it, to be lost, to be forgotten. If we are lucky, we will be able to leave our stories behind, perhaps in chapters, with someone we love, to be passed on, immemorial.