“He who has gone so we but cherish his memory, abides with us more potent, nay more present, than the living man.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
She is a little further along the road now, the sightline of the path ahead obscured by the serpentine twists and turns to come.
As she goes, she is shedding memories like some of us wish that we could shed our skin.
There is less emotional baggage, fewer regrets as the years slip away.
Except this is not some sort of psychological fountain of youth; it’s not a spa scrub-and-peel treatment.
It is not something anyone would choose, the involuntary loss of every precious memory, every intangible family heirloom, parts of a puzzle that — when all the interlocking pieces are in place — makes a person who they are. Now they fall through grasping fingers, one by one; core pieces of identity surrendered in the process. Rendered irretrievable.
It must feel sometimes like flailing helplessly on the edge of things. Like feeling around in the dark. Like slowly losing your mind-sight; with no knob to turn to put things into sharper focus.
The great-grandchildren are sometimes there, sometimes not. The faces of far-flung nephews and nieces flicker in the shadows, sometimes blurred, but now and then sparking a glimmer of recognition that does not last.
“See, you know all the people in that photo.”
“Yes, I know I do. … Wait. Where did that picture come from? Who’s that crowd of people? I don’t know any of them.”
It must feel sometimes like flailing helplessly on the edge of things. Like feeling around in the dark.
The grown grandchildren will be likely be next to go, then their parents. Already their voices are confusing on the phone; it is harder to match the name of the child to that of the appropriate spouse. Conversations are difficult, and each one freshly so. There are no more touchpoints, the experiences of one day lost as fast as the clock hands push them through time’s turnstile. The demarcation lines of minutes and hours and days and weeks have faded away.
Her own siblings will likely stay with her awhile yet, but they are returned to childhood now, with their old-fashioned clothes and dated hairstyles. Short pants and slicked-back hair, scraped knees and scuffed shoes, pomade and poultices, brooches and braids.
The only person who lingers in her mind with unerring certainty is her husband. She knows he is gone and her greatest wish is to have him back.
“It’s hard when you’re used to being with someone all the time and then you’re not,” she tells you.
“It’s not a very nice feeling.”
Christmas has been reduced to something that has to be got through. The years of shopping and baking and wrapping and cleaning and cooking and hosting are gone.
Decorations get hung and removed and go back in the closet, barely noticed. Presents are received and the knowledge of where they came from gone out the door with the givers.
What can you give someone who wants only the things that she cannot now have? Husband, home, clarity.
What can you give someone that makes any sense in the fugue of the otherworld?
There’s a faint sense of relief when the day-to-day interactions return to “How are you?” instead of having to pin down “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” in their proper time slots.
More and more she sits in the lobby watching the world go by. Or perhaps waiting for someone.
Every visit is a revelation — an unexpected pleasant surprise.
“Oh, it’s you!”
“Yes, it’s me. And there you are,” you say, trying to read beyond her outward expression.
There she is, indeed. The knowing in her eyes reaffirms it.
Soon her face clouds over and her quick smile is gone.
“I can’t get Dad off my mind,” she says.
And you’re sad for her, but glad as well; glad that she is safe, and that they have been together in some way, for another year.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton