Monday, 3 September 2012

What happens when the mind goes...missing?

It was my father's birthday. And thiruvonam day as well. I called to wish him. "Happy birthday Acha", I said.

"Same to you," he replied. Birthdays don't mean anything to him any more. Well, nothing much else, either.

He cares about getting his meals on time, but doesn't remember if he's eaten. He's always hungry. He wants my mother around all the time, to look after him, make his meals for him etc. He doesn't care when she falls ill. It doesn't register, you see.

My father has dementia. The part of his brain that remembers people, places, dates and occasions, is slowly getting eroded. He's old, 83 this year, but still spry. Yet he is not the person he used to be. In some ways, that is good. As a child, I remember him as extremely short-tempered. He used to shout often, at my mother, mostly. He's reduced her to tears many many times.  And he used to drink, more and more as I grew to adulthood. So no, I don't have too many happy memories of my father.

My mother is now 70. She looks after him uncomplainingly. For instance, he doesn't remember to clean himself after going to the toilet. So, she has to stay alert, to make sure he is clean. And this is the woman who used to head the English department at Calicut's best college!

A helper comes to bathe my father, twice a week. But on days the man doesn't visit, my mother has to get my father to have a bath. Earlier, that used to be fraught with tension--my dad would abuse her verbally, and occasionally, give her a punch or two. Now he is more manageable, goes quietly to bathe.

Still, I cannot imagine what it is like to live her life. And I know I cannot do what she does. She is the most courageous person I know.