The Cost Of A Thousand Word Picture
Hazelbrook, New South Wales
Yes, ‘a picture’, they say, ‘is worth a thousand words’! What then was the picture before me saying?
The silver-haired woman sat immobile, expressionless, hunched in an old armchair. The television rambled and squealed but she seemed oblivious to it. Her dull, brown eyes stared in its direction but did not see.
The story she was watching and hearing again was in her heart and mind! It was buried very deep where she could not quite reach it.
Snatches! Snapshots and blurred tapes which at one and the same time, she felt a frantic need to reprieve and yet … a sense of slammed, locked doors within and her own aged mind silently shouting at her to ‘Leave it be! Leave it where it lies!’
She knew well what those around her said about her, ‘Silly old Duck! … Off with the fairies! … Pay her no attention! … Dementia!’
In her ‘waking’ moments (which were more than they realised, she knew) she heard them! Many of them had written her off, de-humanised her, and little knew or cared whether or when she was lucid. This she understood when her mind allowed it. Some indeed, has written her off long before her dementia had set in.
They did not know her but they had judged her!
She smiled, that wry smile her carers had often seen and wondered about … ‘They will never know me now!’ The thought both saddened and amused her.
Momentarily her thoughts were diverted. It was as though she had stooped over a garden in her mind to tug at a weed or two … her imminent death? … Imaginings as to what ‘they’ would say about her then? … Questioning whether ‘they’ would then wish they had got to know who she really was? These thoughts swam through her mind and mingled, and got lost in the criss-crossing ripples of other thoughts.
Suddenly, the smile too dissipated into the ripples and was caught up in another wave of puzzle pieces. They were a mix of pieces from a multiplicity of pictures from her past.
Not only in dementia had she struggled with the puzzles. In childhood too, and throughout her adulthood the fragmented pieces had haunted her, then come suddenly come crashing together in a jumble causing her to question so much.
She had managed to allay them a little whilst she raised her children. Focus had been easier as she struggled to answer their life demands. Yet even then, fragmented pieces would appear in the static and the hum-drum of living causing her to doubt herself.
At times she would imagine that she’d found a fit for some piece and would rejoice in the quiet of her own heart. The spinning spiral would it seemed, expand to for a perfect circle. Then she would allow herself to breathe and to relax. She’d feel the light shine from her eyes, hear herself laugh and momentarily revel in the joy of living.
There had in fact been much joy of living over the years. Most definitely there had been joy … and love, and laughter. Victories had been won too, and much of what she had wanted to achieve, she had.
If she could just have reached those memories which haunted her in her quiet times and invaded her dreams!
They had seemed so distant and so vague, like shadows in the deepest fog. Haunting, sinister, shadow memories which always travelled with her; not in her mind alone, but in her heart and in the very pit of her being.
The now aged woman had known since earliest childhood that the memories were real. Each time they returned they broke her heart anew. So strong were the associated feelings, yet the pieces would not all come out at once. The memories were ugly ‘teases’. The effect on her was like the schoolyard bully’s taunts, designed to maim, but then presented to the world as ‘just a joke!’
Yes … she knew when she was lucid that she was deep into the winter of her life. She knew that life’s cold winter dulled her senses with dementia. Somehow she welcomed it!
Was there a brand new spring on the other side? If so, perhaps the pieces would come together then, or even (could it be possible?) disappear and grant her a brand new start.
If indeed there was no new spring … if this winter marked the end … there would be no more sadness still. This being so the ghostly pieces would go with her. This thought brought with it the return of peace. The turbulence within her mind quickly dissipated. Ripples joined and formed again a spiral. Her thin and fragile lips curled almost imperceptibly and her brown eyes dulled again as though the light had gone out too in the recesses of her mind.
No! They did not know her. They would not know her now.
The momentary moments of lucidity diminishing before my eyes, as paid carers came and went with little time to truly stop and see her failing humanity, made my heart ache!
It renewed in me memories of some I had known personally … some with dementia and others, like my beloved grandmother, whose minds had remained sharp while their bodies let them down.
The ‘picture’ I was witnessing raised in me most definitely a thousand words … of memories and questions! They were difficult and anger-making questions mingled with beautiful memories and sad of those I’ve loved and lost … those who through my life have touched my heart and worked to make me who I am!
Bio: Robyn tells us this piece sprung from conversations she had with carers and her own experience of family and friends with dementia. She hopes she has done the subject justice.