“Am I me or not me?” The clarity of her words startled her husband. She did not know who she was, if she was. He had watched her slipping away from him for a while, sudden lucid memories of their life and then a fog that settled over her memory and she did not see or know him, not even being aware of being herself.
It happened in our parish this past week. “Am I me or not me?” The two parts of her mind and memory had come together and separated. It was the horror of losing her mind, glimpsing the familiar in the fog of confusion, but memory of the familiar was fading and then there would be only the forgotten.
He was startled by the question which he had never put into words but now his wife had. She was saying good-bye helplessly and he could not follow her. But he loved whom she had been and must learn to love this new woman who wouldn’t know him and whom he wouldn’t know. He wanted to stay faithful to a love he had promised. God would help him.
I felt privileged to share their story. I have known similar down the years and it seems our civilization is going to hear more of it as people live longer and the pains of old age become more evident.
In one of his books Jonathan Swift takes us to the ‘Land of Immortality’ where it is not possible to die. All have to continue living and ageing. Their physical and mental sufferings are immense and will ever increase. They plead to be allowed to die. They can’t. They have chosen to live forever and they are caught in the horror of that choice. Swift, an Anglican clergyman, knew he was describing hell on earth, a living death from which there was no escape. To be obliterated would be better than this form of immortality.
Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc. may be a defence against the emptiness of life, a slipping away on a painful journey for the persons and for those who love them. “Am I me or not me?”, “Are you you or not you?” are perceptive questions as life ebbs. Steadfast love and willingness to suffer – in the family, and the nurses, doctors, researchers, we see and we are inspired.
We thank God for love and dedication, the only answers we have at present.
God bless us to be patient and understanding, always.
(2nd October 2022)