Writing 101, Day Four: The Serial Killer. Loss.
Today’s prompt is: write about a loss. The twist: make this the first post in a three-post series. Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.
I didn’t want to get sentimental today. I’ve tried hard to write about loss in a positive way, but I’ve given up.
Loss is loss. It’s hard and devastating and often irretrievable.
I want to face loss. I need to face loss. The greatest loss that can happen to a person is, literally, losing oneself, not knowing who you are as a result of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other types of neurological conditions.
I first came across dementia when I was a teenager in the 1970s. My mother, my sister, and I, used to travel from London to the north of Spain via Paris by coach, and ferry. We stayed with my mother’s cousins, aunt, and uncle, who had escaped to France from the Spanish Civil War. They lived in the outskirts of Paris, in suburban town houses, much like our house in north London. We always enjoyed our stay there (I’m sorry to say we’ve lost touch now), they were merry and welcoming, and took us to visit the sights like tourists, and cooked us delicious meals, which always ended with lots of different types of cheese and Champaign.
One year, my mother’s Aunt Asunción was different. She kept saying things over and over again. She no longer cooked, or went out. I sensed something was wrong, but she looked healthy. She had put on weight, and seemed to be happy, and smiled most of the time. Until one day she asked me how my father was. My father didn’t live with us, so he never came. In fact, I’m sure she had never even met him. But she insisted in Spanish, which was the language she usually used to speak to me, ‘Where is Antonio, your father? I haven’t seen him this morning in the walk.”
It took me a few minutes o realize she was talking about my grandfather, whom I had never met, because he had died ten years before I was born. Then she called me by my name, which was also my mother’s name. Once more I soon realized she wasn’t talking to me, but to my mother. She thought I was my mother, and she was asking me about her father. I was shocked and distressed, so I rushed to tell my aunt, her daughter, who told me not to worry, ‘Just say yes, and play along.’ She dismissed. I asked her if we shouldn’t tell her about her confusion, and she told me that she was ill, and would never recover her former self. We had lost her, but worse still, she had lost herself.
As far as I can remember, there was no name attached to the condition, at the time. It was dismissed as ‘old age’. Apparently, it had happened to other members of the family who had lived long enough. Years later, in the 1990s, another aunt, on my father’s side, suffered the same ‘strange illness’, which now had a universally acknowledged name: Alzheimer’s, and people started talking about it openly, and investigating to improve the lives of sufferers and their families, but it was early days yet.
This dreadful loss was to cross my path twice more…
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