All the things we’ve lost.

The first time I remember you losing something – it was me. We were in France and I was seven or eight and turned one way and you turned the other and I was gone. I remember the primal fear – the strange faces bending down as I called for you in the street. You panicked. Ran the length of the road – frantically shouting my name – glimpsed me reflected in a shop window – and swept me up in your arms.

But that was long ago. You must have lost a million things since then. You were always losing things.

I only started to really worry when you lost the door key – I cut you another – and you lost that one too. Soon you were losing everything – in that house, in our home – where we four had lived – and then just you two – and finally – just you. Alone.

Then the hose got cut. Hacked off. It was weird. You thought it was ‘spooky’ that someone would cut the hose like that. Who after all – would cut the hose in such a way. Such a violent thing to do. Who cuts hoses? You blamed the gardener. He kept insisting you hadn’t paid him. Perhaps it was revenge.

You lost the gardener shortly after that.

Then you rang me one day out of the blue about the Shakespeare miniatures – the books your grandad had given you. The ones that sat in their little mahogany case outside the bedroom on the chest of drawers. Perhaps I’d taken them – or maybe given them to my daughter. Why would I have done that? Had I done that? Of course I hadn’t done that.

But you’d lost them. You were certain of it.

“Are you sure you don’t have them darling?”

“Why would I have them Mum?”

“Because someone has taken them. Will you check your house?”

“But I know I haven’t got them.”

“Are you saying I’m going mad?”

You hadn’t lost them. They weren’t in my house. They were where they’d always been. Where they’d been for forty years. On the chest of drawers outside your bedroom. In the meantime you’d lost another key – broken another phone. I tried to ring you to reassure you – but couldn’t get through and the fear rose in me. I couldn’t sleep – had such a pain in my gut. The home we had loved was devouring you.

“I think I’m losing my marbles” you said.

“No Mum. It happens to us all.”

“Don’t get old.” You said.

The next thing you lost was your appetite.

I tried to fill your fridge. Tried to teach you again to work the microwave. In vain.

Then you started to lose other things – slippers, shoes, your bank cards, your wedding ring, your purse, your knack for remembering people – your sense of humour, your sense of time. Your weight.

The car furred up inside under a shroud of autumn leaves.

“She’s so thin.” People said helpfully – it wasn’t helpful at all.

The woman came from “the society.” She gave you lists, forms, leaflets – you put them in the recycling. What could we do? This bomb – this devastating blow. This thing, slowly dragging the woman who had nurtured me – loved me – swept me up in the street – what was to be done? What could we do? This slow degeneration into living death. This loss of mind of this lost woman who had been my rock, my life, my Mummy.

That steadfast refusal to give in. You didn’t lose that. Nobody was going to boss you around, not me, not nurses, not Doctors, not friends, not time.

The next thing you lost was people – not all the people – but a lot of the people. The casual friends. The people from Church. The people who popped by for coffee. The people from the shops and tennis and where you’d once worked.

The people who loved you stood firm and resolute but we dwindled also. We tried with all the power of whatever it is that makes people love – to keep you going – to keep you alive – to keep you – you – Hannah – the task was pointless. There was nothing that could be done. You slipped slowly away. You lost your way. Lost your will.

The next thing you lost was your home.

I was complicit.

“You’re doing the right thing!” People told me – but I was stealing what was left of you away.

I found your past – tucked in tins and envelopes – lost love letters from long lost loves. Some scandalous. Some sad. Some naive and embarrassing. I burned and slashed and threw away – in the desperation of getting you out alive – I incinerated your memories – even as the ones you carried in your head turned to dust.

I edited you. Censored you. Took power. Scattered your possessions. Threw the rest of it in a skip.

The next thing you lost was the round table. Where we’d sat and laughed at our stupid in-jokes. Where you’d held those parties – those legendary lunches – where we’d drunk whisky the night Dad died and cried and mourned together.

“I could never let that table go,” you said to me – but it wouldn’t fit in the ‘new place’ the hated ‘new place’ where the other inmates viewed you – like encroaching cancer – as you smiled and forgot their names. We emptied the rooms. We burned the old beds. We auctioned the round table – it didn’t fetch much – and gave the records and books away to charity.

The next thing you lost was your balance.

Then your dignity.

But still you were you. You had yet to lose that and you were yet to lose me.

“It’s me Mum.”

“Hello my darling.”

“Do you know who I am Mum?”

“Of course darling how are my grandchildren? I’d love to see them.”

I couldn’t bring them any more.

‘She’ll never forget me!’ I said to myself. We comforted ourselves with that. ‘She still knows who we are.’ How could you forget us? Me? Your little boy who you’d lost and found – swept up in your arms. Any of us. All of those memories. How could it all just go?

You lost birthdays, Christmases, years – elections – all those things we used to celebrate and quarrel about and gossip about and share. You lost your taste for curry, your taste for wine, your wisdom, your courage, your love of crosswords, your nip of whisky, your love of talking, your second lunchtime sherry, cheese – numbers – poems – your teeth, your hair, your money down the sink hole of nurses and night care and driving the thirst from your lips. You lost your fears. Your dedication. Your funny superstitions. Your worries. Your cares. Your infectious laughter. Your sense of justice. Your magnificent steel. Your love of books, your singing – your clean silver – now tarnishing in the drawers.

Now you blink from the pillows, lost beneath the duvet, lost when you look at me – lost in limbo. And I put on a brave face but it’s one that means nothing to you any more. I’ve lost you Hannah. We’ve lost you. It’s our turn to lose now.

19 thoughts on “All the things we’ve lost.

  1. I am so sorry for what you are going through. Thank you for sharing; sending you, your mum and all who love her, lots of love, light and peaceful thoughts.

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  2. This made me cry I have just put my husband into a carehome he too has lost everything but mainly speech, he cant speak at all & cant understand anything that is said to him. He too is desperately thin but as yet walks walks walks all day.

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  3. I love what Dolly wrote in response to this beautiful, poignant love poem to your mum. There are “long goodbyes” sometimes. And how wonderful that Hannah has such a loving witness through the all of it. But Oh! This way of loving, this agonizing death-by-a-thousand-losses, who is ever prepared for this kind of love? Thank you for having the courage to name each cut; each loss. You have described yet another chapter in the arc of family love, loyalty and loss. My love goes out to you now – and always. G

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  4. I understand. Going through it though mum not so bad as Hannah. Each day is a new start, everything repeated from the day before. Take care

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  5. Thank you so much for your elegant, eloquent evocation of that loss. My mum lost the ability to communicate first, she lost words when she wanted them, then lost the confidence to converse, then ability to follow a conversation.
    My mum has dad who hangs onto each morsel of recognition, though we are sure that most of the time we are strangers in her home; yet the contemplation that, in her eyes, a stranger might be doing these intimate things for her is worse.

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  6. How well you write the loss of someone Im currently going through it too, the repetition of same questions the fact I have never taken sugar in tea or coffee in all the years we’ve been together yet now he asks how many. How long this journey may be we don’t know but each day brings a loss little or large of the person we once knew so well as our paths diverge things we remembered together change with each passing day as memories slowly disappear so he makes things up to fill the gaps of what once was there 😔

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  7. I was reminded of Elisabeth Bishop’s The Art Of Losing things, “ it isn’t very hard to do” which has to be one of my favourite poems-
    I like this as much and it totally and movingly illustrates my own experience of my beloved , deceased ( at ninety eight ) mother’s life. Thank you so much.

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  8. Ive been through this cruel slow parting from my beloved Mother. The endless struggle & now the guilt of trying to do the right thing or just the best thing in an awful time. But in the end she knew me, she told me, after months of silence, that she loved me. It was so precious & i cling to that treasured memory. In all that you all face remember she really loves you too

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  9. Very sorry to hear you’re going through this. For your mother to be taken bit by bit from you like this is simply horrid.

    I suppose, like most people, I first saw this happen to my grandfather, who by the end didn’t recognise us and had to be dressed and bathed by my mother – his daughter-in-law. Now my own parents are getting to the same age, happily both still quite healthy, but the worry is there.

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  10. Thank you for finding these words. It is a harrowing journey, we haven been through it twice with close relatices/uncles, only then (1980s) it was all blamed on the drink.
    Now that we have research and statistics, it has become even harder to grasp.
    I hope you are in good and supportive company.

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  11. A lovely essay on an awful subject. My mum has also been ‘lost’. I have written blogs about it too…. trying to find the humour in the situation…. trying to obliterate my fear, my guilt. But its an awful cruel disease.

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