This is bleak.
I don’t apologise for being bleak; I am exploring my thoughts about the future.
As brain cells degenerate, and functions function less well,
As clarity clouds and anxieties grow,
I wonder about what will be left of “me” in the coming years.
We exhort people to “see the person not the dementia”, and rightly so.
From the outside, we can try to connect with a person’s life, to help lead them back to memories they can still find and enjoy.
Though do we not also lead them back to memories they have tried to forget, and which may haunt them?
But try to get inside the person sitting in that chair, or lying in that bed. Towards the end of their journey, who are they? Who do they feel they are? How do they know who they are?
I’m not a philosopher or a religious scholar. Nor am I a psychiatrist.
But I live and think and write and listen and reflect, and…well…
Who am I?
Who in this world am I?
What is it that makes me me?
Who am I when I am no longer me?
What is it that makes me me and not you?
And who are you?
How do I know you are you?
I face losing what makes me me in the coming years.
Dementia won’t steal me. It won’t kill me.
My brain disease might though, if the other bits don’t give out first.
I will slowly, imperceptibly, grindingly, lose me.
My body will be here, but I will be gone.
My blood will circulate, my chest rise and fall, my eyes glance round or stare at something…
But I will be gone.
Because I will not remember.
I will not remember yesterday or last week.
I will not remember the calls of birds or the names of flowers.
I will not remember helping teenagers to love Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney.
I will not remember my children being born.
My wedding day, my 50th birthday, my 65th…
What I did yesterday.
Where my wife is.
What I ate for breakfast.
Who, then, will I be?
Because I am what I know, and what I remember, and what I feel.
I am billions of pictures and sensations archived in my brain.
When I cannot access them who will I be?
When I sit and look out at the clouds, or watch strangers passing by, who will I be?
My uniqueness is my archive of memories.
I’ve seen the same world as you, but I’ve seen it differently.
The smell of bracken is my childhood walking up the Abergavenny hills.
The smell of a crocus or a daffodil is my schooldays in Edinburgh, escaping from bullying and loving wildness.
The sound of a symphony orchestra is my Thursday evenings in Birmingham Town Hall in my twenties.
The taste of Beaujolais is helping my dad to bottle wine from big oak casks in the kitchen.
So who will I be when I can no longer remember these things?
My father-in-law had a ten second memory. He was lost.
And he kept trying to escape from something…probably a ship that sunk beneath him in the war.
He couldn’t remember that his wife had died, just kept asking where she was, and grieving every few minutes. Every time for the first time. Again and again.
Who will I be when I can no longer remember yesterday?
I will still be alive. I will still exist.
But I will have no anchor. I will float along, turning this way and that, at the whim of people and surroundings not of my choosing.
I cannot imagine what nothingness is.
I cannot imagine living behind the locked library doors, my archive lost from me forever.