I imagine most people fear death – pain/suffering, non existence. It is human nature to want to understand and make sense of the world around us, but death can never be fully understood by anyone. It’s the greatest unknown.
But that’s not mine. There’s something worse than that:
“The fear of losing my mind is my greatest fear”
There was an elderly married couple I knew through work. They’d come and see me every month for the past eight years. She was from Belgium, him British. Always well dressed, old school money, lived in Knightsbridge. The wife wore the trousers, super smart (spoke several languages), meticulous, her memory was superb. Although we were from different worlds, she was never snooty. Refreshingly, very down to earth, direct at times, but I admired her head strong nature.
Over time we became close, she would always ask about my family, worry that I was looking too thin, and would tell me that I looked beautiful when I didn’t try too hard. I found her to be very caring. Despite her privileged life, there was great sadness in her heart. As her confidence in me grew, she told me that she had a son but they hadn’t spoken in years, he lived abroad with his wife and children. The quarrel was over money, he stole a substantial amount from them, and scarpered. She tried to reach out to him, but she felt that they were missing the mother-son relationship, because he was raised by a nanny.
The nicest thing she ever said to me was that she wished I was her daughter. A couple of months after my dad died, her husband died too. At the time, I was grieving, I didn’t see it, but in hindsight the signs were there, her mind was gradually deteriorating. Her behaviour was odd, she started to miss things that she would never have done before. She’d open her bag lots of times, take things out then put back in. There was a lot of cash in her bag, when I asked her why she carried thousands of pounds, her answer was that she lost trust in the bank. I feared her getting mugged.
At first, I assumed she had dementia, but it progressed to paranoia when she thought that everybody in her life was trying to kill her. That included her neighbours, her doctor, my colleagues, the only person she trusted bizarrely was me. I listened to her and became increasingly disturbed. How could someone who was one of the brightest women I’d ever met change so drastically?
Everyone dismissed her as a crazy woman, but I had known the ‘real’ her for years. I didn’t like her being referred to as such. Alarm bells rang when I could see bruises on her frail skeletal body. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. After seeing her I had tears running down my cheeks, people told me to not get affected, because she was old (late 70’s) and it was just a part of life that she would die.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Her husband had gone, her son abandoned her, and she had no other family she spoke of. She was all alone. It played heavily on my conscience, how could I turn my back on her? Just because she was old didn’t mean she shouldn’t be allowed dignity and respect like everyone else. I took the next day off work, and went to see her. Her paranoia was so bad that she thought the people that were trying to kill her bugged her mobile & landline.
I waited for sometime before she eventually answered the door to me. Over the next couple of weeks, I would help with her shopping, take her for coffee. I was convinced if I tried hard enough, I could get through to her, somewhere deep down, she would talk to me in the way she once did. Sadly, she kept talking about things that made no sense. There was a brief moment when she recalled my nephew’s age. Her memory was still there locked away deep inside.
I pleaded with her to get a carer or go to a private care home, although she valued her independence, stubborningly so, it was clear she wasn’t well enough to look after herself. If she had an accident, I wasn’t there to check on her. The thought of her suffering in silence scared me. I was to betray her wishes, but it wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be to get someone sectioned. I tried but to no avail.
She died not long after. It was heartbreaking to watch her decline into someone almost unrecognisable. I confided in no one that I went to check on her. I take some comfort in knowing that although she may have felt alone in her mind, there was someone that shed tears in her memory…
Love you Nella.
You see without my mind, I have lost my self-identity, losing connection with everyone & everything around me. That for me means ‘Abi’ has already gone.