I know from painful, devastating experience that grief is an experience with a beginning but no end. But when the beginning is death, grief only starts once. Over time it attenuates. Ever present, but incorporated into your very being, it does not lessen, but becomes, at least, familiar.
When the beginning is dementia, though, grief starts afresh every day.
Every encounter is a new loss.
Every visit, death stares me in the face. Still breathing, heart beating, but nonetheless quite, quite dead.
I don’t know how to process this. There are no cards or flowers. No ceremonial send off, or celebration of life. There is no date that marks the transition from breath to grief. It happens every day.
Everything she was is gone. Her personality has leached from her brain like the colour leaving her hair. Her face is slack. Only her rage, once her defining feature, sparks occasionally like a dying circuit. A small flash of the malice that once powered her body, now it can’t get her out of her chair.
Her father lay slack in his bed for long months before finally dying, years after he last recognised his only child.
She still gets out of bed, but only to sit by the table, staring blankly ahead. How long until she no longer has the urge to rise? Will she die the way he did, a huddle of surprisingly small bones under a white sheet?
Does she suffer, I wonder? Is there enough left to feel pain, even grief of her own? She doesn’t know me when I visit. Does it matter to her that my visits are rare? That I can’t contain my grief, or my fear, enough to look her in the eye?
I can be brave. I can be strong. I can deal with loss. I’ve had to. But I don’t know how to deal with a loss that goes on forever. That I have carried for a decade and must carry still. I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t know how anybody could.