Unexpected things that pop up in the brain


On the way to Brighton and her 89th birthday, my partner’s mother fell ill, went a weird putty colour and slid down the seat of her daughter’s car, suspended by no more than good luck and the safety belt. The old sweetoleen ended up in Hayward’s Heath hospital, which turns out to be one of the best hospitals in the world, thus proving that the NHS is a wonderful thing, run by wonderful people with wonderful intentions.

After a spell in the hospital assessment unit (a strange medical no man’s land, from which people do return) she went into a ward for geriatrics and dementia patients. She was there for a month before going on to the next port of call, nursed by this band of angelic people, who prove that looking after old, incontinental missiles is not only good for those on the receiving end, it proves that being naturally lovely is not strictly the prerogative of holy people, social workers and erm… politicians, but is to be found amongst real people – truly great ones – nurses, mothers, doctors (some), carers and others.

I am totally humbled by those I see working in this kind of environment; one can sense just how naturally lovely they are, like the most beautiful plants and trees. These are the people who inspired me 15 years ago, when I was swimming around in a corporate business pond, alongside corporate business pond life whose purpose was so shallow and limited that even my allotment compost heap would reject them as unfit for purpose.

That said, one of the most interesting things about Marj, (my partner’s mum) is that her short-term memory is now completely shot, it was not great at the best of times, but now it just doesn’t seem to be there, however much you may search for it. With the loss of so much bad news she’s undergone some interesting changes in personality. There’s a newfound optimism there. All the people she once knew to be dead when her brain was in gear a month ago, she now reckons to be going strong, including the dog, and this idea has animated her no end.

All this is food for thought. If we all believed that those we loved and lost to this world were as accessible as somebody on the other end of a mobile phone would we too be incredibly jolly and a bit more interesting? There’s no doubt, there’s an element of fun in Marj today that wasn’t there when she remembered how old she was and recalled who was dead and who wasn’t. In her world today, everyone is still going strong; the news that the dog was dead came as a real downer. Thankfully she didn’t sustain the surprise for more than a nanosecond. I reckon that sometimes losing something – like a bit of memory – could bring the occasional bonus.

Unlike Marj, you and I are stuck in a place where we view the dead as a cause for grief and sorrow, on the basis we may never see them again… when in fact it’s just the illusion of reality and loss that stands between us and them.

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