This post is a bit different from my usual fare and has quite a serious tone, so I’ve taken out the usual links and adverts. I’d hesitated a little over posting it as I’m not one for oversharing; but you never know – sometimes these things plant a seed of hope, give comfort or otherwise point to a place where some solace can be achieved.
Part of the reason my activity has been a little muted of late, including missed deadlines on ‘Psychonaut 2’ is that I’ve increasingly taken on the role of carer for my father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. My mother, who is also disabled has needed extra care too as she has depended on Dad so much in the past. For anyone who has had a relative suffer from this horrendous condition, you won’t need me to tell you how it takes a particular toll as the one you had known and loved for all of your life gradually becomes someone different. Their personality changes and they become increasingly lost in a world which is overwhelmingly bewildering. Equally, they begin to forget who their family and friends are.
The awful state of losing one’s personality was brought home to me a while ago when I saw a piece of artwork by Toni Bratincevic entitled ‘Consumed’:
This is the story behind the picture:
At the time we were living in Croatia there was one old man living in an apartment below ours that had Alzheimer’s disease. He would sometimes come to our doors in the middle of the night and try to unlock the doors thinking that it was his apartment. His daughter once told me he forgot who she was, and how he cut his bed with a saw for no logical reason. What a torture that must be, losing yourself, all your memories, reason and logic. The essence of life is contained in those experiences we had over our lives, people we met and loved, and then this punishment came and took everything from him, stole his essence, his soul, and left him with just a shell of what he is not. There was more left of that old man in his daughter that in the body he was once populating. I will always remember you my unknown friend, you gave me power to create this piece of art, but I wish you never ignited this idea in me because that would mean that you spent your old days free of this suffering. You will live inside your loved ones until the day their time comes, but you will live inside this image forever!
You can view more of Toni’s artwork at his website
I’m not normally one for doing grief, and in many ways it seems premature to think of things in these terms, yet Alzheimer’s is a condition where the person going through the ordeal seems to have gone spiritually even though their body is still present.
After a particularly difficult few days, where Dad had taken to night wandering, wondering where home was, and learning that any medications he could have been prescribed were unavailable to him because of an undiscovered heart condition, I found myself at 6 o’ clock in the morning sitting and reading John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ Those familiar with the classic will recall the scene where the Oklahoma family who are the subject of the novel, are uprooted from their home when the bank calls in their debt after the family’s crops fail in the 1920’s dustbowl of America’s great depression. They leave their homestead, the place they had lived in for generations, with heavy hearts. On their journey to California, where the grape vines line the streets and anyone can supposedly pick the grapes freely, the grandfather dies of a stroke. After an enforced burial at the side of the road, Casy, his grandson states ‘ … Grampa didn’t die to-night. He died the minute you took ‘im off the place … he was breathin’ but he was dead … ‘
Upon reading these words, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself crying – again, something I just don’t do. Funny how words from the pen of a master such as Steinbeck can evoke such emotion. I couldn’t continue reading and had to put the book to one side. Turning to my morning mail to try and take my mind off things, I received notification of a post by an inspirational blogger and writer called Drew Chial. (co-incidentally, his piece was about coping with grief in unusual contexts – in this case the result of the passing of a dearly loved pet cat.) You can read it here .
I would be surprised if you weren’t affected. It was in fact his post that prompted me to write this one, as just hearing of his experience meant I knew someone else out there was going through similar emotions. There might be some who say you can’t compare the death of an animal with a human being, but no one has the monopoly on grief; and the value we place on companionship in whatever form has no universal yardstick.
So, I hope you will forgive me for the dearth of output at present. Believe me, I am yearning to get back to the keyboard. But these things must take priority. As well as empathetic writing, music is a great source of comfort, and a song I have listened to since 1980 seems to encapsulate my feelings on this whole subject of life, death and memory. So, I took the opportunity to record a video version of the song as part of my ‘Songs from the garden’ series. It’s entitled ‘Sail Away’ and was written by David Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore.
Here’s the video:
I brought Mum and Dad round to Dinner last weekend. After a meal that took ninety minutes or more to finish (my Mum’s a slow eater) we settled down to chat and we got to talking about poetry. Almost spontaneously, Dad started reading aloud from memory:
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
When I asked him what it was, he said he had been taught to recite it by rote when at school in the 1940’s. It was called ‘Silver’ and, although he couldn’t remember the author, I later found out it was Walter de la Mare. The combined impact of discovering that Dad could remember something so lucidly, and that such an offering was given by one not usually renowned for showing affinity for any poetry was particularly poignant.
So, at present, my Dad isn’t completely consumed and I simply savour these precious moments.