When all’s forgotten

Joseph Borrientos sun sky water
Photo by Joseph Borrientos

I interviewed a former cabinet minister once. He was remembered as the do-or-die front liner during my country’s early tumultuous years. A man who with the other founding statesmen, created a new nation that was to become Singapore today.

A giant of a man. A hero. My childhood vision of a dignitary – till this image of a lonely man sitting in the patio facing the garden at mid-morning. The slanted sun rays cutting through a glass of clear apple juice casting golden lines on his pale frail hand, his thin legs crossed like those of a stuffed doll, one foot dangling above a dropped slipper.

He looked at us casually. We bowed in an awkward fashion and greeted him with the old honorific. Unnecessary protocol, his eyes spoke. He smiled nevertheless. I tried to find resemblance of this person to what I’ve seen on TV and the papers. This was a very different man.

A younger aide in his late sixties accompanied us and filled in the details of all that we asked of the great man who sat placidly close to us yet so very distant in a world of his own. When the interview ended, I said goodbye to who he was, saddened by what he had become – an empty shell.

Last Friday I was out with a friend who is facing challenging days with her mother-in-law who doesn’t remember things anymore. I listened, told her I understood what she’s going through…..but I honestly didn’t.

What do we go through when the brain wastes away? It’s a scary thought. There are tomes of information about dementia and senility, and yet there’s nothing one can do about it. Knowing doesn’t make it go away or prevent it from happening. That troubled me all weekend.

What happens when the ability to think is gone? Is there no past and no future? Is every waking moment a new experience? Does one live only for here and now? Does that make one undeniably happy? Is this a blessing or a curse? Is ignorance truly blissful?

I decided there’s no point worrying. Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be.

In the meantime, carpe diem, my friends.

Live…Love…Laugh

If we do lose our minds tomorrow, at least we have a good time today.

Joan Yap

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3 thoughts on “When all’s forgotten

  1. My mum-in-law has dementia. First diagnosed about 12 years ago. She was in her late seventies.

    At that time she was still very fit n could even go to Chinatown periodically to buy her cosmetics n other personal items.

    One day she fell in the toilet. She cut her lower with her dentures that there was a puncture wound requiring 4 stiches.

    From that time her memory, temperament n mobility slowly but inexplicably declined. She also suffered intermittent mini strokes.

    Through these past decade her memory faded. Friends n aquaintances were lost. “Stephen” became referred to as “Fei Low”. “Audrey” became “Mummy”. “Moon” the helper became “Ah Bee/Ah Lee” n occasionally “Stupid” when she became frustrated.

    We laughed this away in amusement gently chiding her n repeating our actual names till we realised other than what is captured in her mind’s eye she was not registering it. That was one of our saddest day.

    Never violent her temperament became like that of a little child. Tantrums abound. Sulking n mealtimes were akin to the cow chewing cud. But still we persevered. That was her nutrition.

    Slowly n eventually in the last 3 years she lost her ability to do anything for herself. Still semi mobile but movement restricted to helping her shuffle to the wash basin to do her ablutions. Our arms interlocked around her waist in case her pencil thin legs gave way.

    Recently she suffered a brain stem stroke n of the left hemisphere. She is now tube fed n have no mobility on her right. The end is in sight. She is awake for a few minutes when tube fed or given medication before she goes into a deep sleep again. This has become a routine.

    Prior to this stroke she used to have vivid dreams attested by Moon. Laughing, giggling, screaming in playfulness. In her dreams she shouted n laughed about being chased by her siblings n friends around a tree or by the beach.

    My wish for her now is to dream pleasant dreams of her childhood n early years before she took on the responsibilities of adulthood n motherhood.

    As for my part n that of Audrey, to continue to care for her with love n affection even when she no longer recognises us.

    For me, if not for mum’s permission I could not have married. For Audrey, she would not be here without mum. We are just thankful we had many wonderful years. Through the good times n hard times.

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