Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
He was about a month away from his fourth birthday. He and his older sister were in the back of the car as their father drove them home late on a spring evening when the cherry trees were in full bloom. It was as if Nature was saluting the little boy’s grandmother, for it was her birthday.
The two children had spent the evening with their grandmother. They had taken her a cake, they had sung to her and they had cut the cake for her, because there was very little she could do for herself now, since Alzheimer’s had steadily eroded the power of her considerable brain.
More than four years earlier, when one of her sons flew halfway round the world to see her, she embraced him warmly, with a bright smile on her face. When he softly asked if she remembered him, her face clouded over. ``I don’t know your name,’’ she replied tenderly, ``but I know I love you very much.’’
But even the power of speech had long since deserted her now. Her mind, once so quick, so vital and so sharp, was like a towering skyscraper at night, where the lights were being switched off one by one, in a steady but irreversible sequence.
In the back seat of the car, the little boy pondered this aloud. He turned to his sister and asked why his beloved Gran couldn’t speak. Gently, the little girl explained that their grandmother was ill and had lost the power of speech.
"Her mind, once so sharp, was like a towering skyscraper at night, where the lights were being switched off one by one."
The children asked their father if he was sad about it. He thought carefully about his response and told them that his mother had first been touched by dementia in her early forties. He told them, with a smile on his face, about how she would always lose things and how, as an inveterate letter writer, she would write aerogrammes to family and friends but the letters were always punctuated by blank spaces because she could not remember words, names or details.
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