Fading Light

The sunlight blurred his memory as he stared around the empty room, blinding his thoughts and making the world seem unsteady. Gripping his walking stick, he turned around. His daughter was beside him, speaking, but he couldn’t hear the meaning in her words. For most of his life he had lived here. Everything he remembered within the walls of home was leaving as his children packed it away and prepared to sell the house. Things that had not been moved for years suddenly disappeared, leaving a confused emptiness that ached with the vacancy of regularity. There was nothing more disturbing than not knowing. He knew…but he couldn’t find it inside himself, as he searched through everything his mind remembered. What could be searched for if he didn’t know what he’d forgotten?

He had never wanted to leave in the first place. For months, he’d lived alone, never wanting to leave the sanctuary of sameness. Gradually his children became more urgent in their discussions about “what to do”, knowing his mind faded more every week. He would forget what time it was, and scare his family when he forgot to throw away old food and ate it instead. As his memory weakened, they talked with him about moving into care. Time had extended…now it was happening.

Moving into the nursing home came as a sudden shock, although it had been discussed months ago. Unexpectedly, he was surrounded by caring professionals and unanticipated separation from everything he had worked for. Explicitly concerned about his home, he dismayed his family with questions. He wanted only for everything to be used and cherished, and would not be satisfied until he was assured that it was. Plagued by anxiety, he would sit absently for hours, waiting for visitors, staring at photos…trying to remember. As his previous independence vanished, it was bewildering to have memory and certainty pulled away from him and to be “left in the dark”. What happened seventy years ago was still clear in his mind, but the recent days and hours evaporated into the mist as his intellectual capabilities faded.

Holding onto his long-ago memories, he amused and tormented visitors and nurses alike with his “olden-days” stories. Only this seemed to be satisfactory to him. Gradually he began to relax into his new stage of life and became an unpredictable source of information about the lives of his parents and grandparents, his life as a young man, and the origins of his endless knick-knacks. “You know m’ painted rock there on the windowsill at home?” he’d say to one of his children. “Y’know the one?” And he’d launch off into a half-hour of happy remembering and sharing. Then he’d say, “You take it home with you.” It was an order, not to be disobeyed. His ancient relics and stories were his legacy, the heritage left to those after him, and nothing satisfied him more than to know that they were treasured and valued.

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