“do I know you?” \ an address on unfamiliarity

I don’t even know her anymore.

She has become so childlike, not only in terms of her shriveled self – her mind as well.

She would spiral into this outburst of rage, shrieking “Help, there is a stranger in my room!” in the middle of the night. And even when her own son enters her bedroom in an attempt for consolation to ease her imaginary chaos, she thought that he was an intruder – even thought he was a sexual predator. It was that distressing. She couldn’t recognise the boy she loved and nurtured for over five long decades.

I guess she couldn’t even identify who she is.

Sometimes when she’s in a mood less foul, she would talk about her life. Though it is all history, she would refer it like it was just a yesterday. 

“We Peranakans need to blend in with the Malays and these people are always up to no good. Do not talk to them when you see them!”, “Do you need me to take you up? I swear I saw a man around the corner who seemed like he was up to no good.” — To her, the whole world is seemingly ‘up to no good’. And she constantly forgets that I’m way stronger than her and there was not a need to ‘protect’ me at all. I was supposed to be the one protecting her.

Never have I seen my old man cry, and more specifically, it was the first time I actually seen a grown man who’s lived more than half a century shedding tears of bitterness. Knowing that the woman who raised you can no longer acknowledge you – what implacable sorrow.

Gradually, it advances into disdain.  I became so immune of the hubbub. Occasionally I’d receive texts from my sister saying things like “She strikes again”, “Shit, I hate her”, “Damn, she’s making me having ill thoughts”, “I hope she shuts the fuck up soon” when I was still not home yet. And the commotion and melodrama only she herself is engaged in really just makes me feel like spending my entire night out.

I hate it when she scolds my mother for nothing, calling her all sorts of names that makes my favorite woman in the world seem like a whore. I hate it when my mother breaks down and weeps desperately. I hate it when my mother sorely laments and asks herself what she did in her past life to deserve all this fucked up treatment from someone whom she has so patiently taken care of. I hate the noise and ruckus that she makes. Sometimes I feel contempt with the awareness that I’m actually related to her.

Is she really the woman I knew? The one who brought us out for a walk on Saturday mornings, bought us ice cream and candy, took us to the playground whenever we wanted to, chatted with us about school and told us those ridiculously awesome anecdotes?

No. What I see is just another familiar stranger, living in a rather non-existent presence in the bedroom beside mine.

Sometimes I wish that I could show more respect to her (because my mother told me to, because “she’s your elder”, because she’s old and because she lost her memory), but I can’t bring myself to do it. Impatient, disrespectful, disgusting, obnoxious, whatever you call me. I just hate doing it.

I hate the fact that people grow old. I hate how this person I once cherished has shrunk to become a person so small. I hate how she doesn’t smile anymore. I hate how she doesn’t listen anymore. I hate how I can’t even talk to her anymore. I hate how I don’t know her anymore.

Happier times.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Joy says:

    Hi, I am very touched by your anecdote of the living moments of a kin whom has fallen sick. The trying times will escalate and it seems only like the first stages of this “torment- ardous journet thats is going to be filled with so much more negativity and anger and inevitably sadness. It is never easy to watch the ones we love grow old and die, its never easy when its all about love. The attachment and expectations that come attached never leaves. I understand your frustrations, extremely human and your hurt. But always, remember that the person you once were so endeared to is just within that soul somewhere. Perhaps liberated into heavens, released from all burdens and tolls of humans. She wont want it this way, she is looking down upon you, loving you. And that doesnt change inspite how the illness moulds her; what monster it changes her into. One of Sparks’ books I think had a similar story of how his wife couldnt remember, but there were moments when she slept, he saw her in her real state again. He found what he loved in her again.

    1. yuqikoh says:

      Hi, i deeply appreciate your kind and thoughtful words and this really means a lot to me. Never expected one to actually comment on my posts.
      When i returned home from school last night, my whole family gathered inside my granny’s bedroom, and when i entered my mum was kneeling next to her bed, my dad was actually lying there beside her. Even my sister was there as well.
      They told me that she suddenly complained that she’s really cold, and her whole body was trembling. And her face was absurdly pale, almost lifeless. The way she talked, it sounded as if she is numb and can’t pronounce her words that accurately no more.
      I actually felt a spasm of anguish. I guess i won’t be that indifferent after all even if she leaves. I miss her, at least the her that she was before everything changed. I probably will regret not having my parents’ patience, not caring enough for her – like one of those typical human beings who become guilt stricken after a loved one’s departure. And i ought to be shameful for that.

      I believe the novel you are talking about is The Notebook? I have seen the film version of it. And i swear i related to it. Especially at the end of the movie where they laid in each other’s arms to face death.

      It is inevitable that people around us will grow old, and i always frown upon this fact, that someday we may become a hindrance to the others in our life. Part of me sticks to this harsh truth, part of me still wants to revert back to the old times when she still has that sanity. I know there’s not much time left as she’s 91, full of frailty. But i guess i will have to just treasure these moments left.

  2. Pentacat says:

    Hi Yuqi, it’s really disheartening to hear of your loss. Your loss of connection to the grandmother whom you loved – and her love for you. Dementia is scary, all decades of life decay back to her youthful days. She forgot how she fell in love, how she was pregnant for 9months, her pain of delivery, holding her son in her hands, how she held you in her hands. She would hate herself too if she knew who she’d became. But she has no control over what washes over her. It is understandable for your hatred towards her when she was throwing fits of unreasonable temper and paranoia. But deep down you know her flickering subconsciousness is still loving every single one of you. The brain does not change the heart, and you shouldn’t stop loving her too. Great to hear that you are becoming more rational yourself. If you need, all of your friends are here for you if you need anything. Stay strong, stronger than you have ever been. And promise me, keep her close to you, make her remember you till the very end, kick dementia’s ass and show ’em you won.

    1. yuqikoh says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words and such encouragement really means a lot to me. I hold them close to my heart.
      And yes, I’ve been trying to stay open minded and express more empathy these two days. She’s becoming more frail and even more childlike than before. But I’ve been trying to understand the complexities of this illness.
      Don’t fret, i’m not extremely troubled by this because it has been a long battle with dementia in our household. And trust me, I’ll be able cope it even better, after pouring my heart out and with people like you offering words of kindness.
      Thank you so much!
      (p.s. i believe i know you)

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