My father’s father talked to everyone, including the figurines on the sideboard, and he sometimes saw the ships he’d worked on as chief engineer sail across the field behind our neighbour’s house. My mother’s mother stopped speaking, also to her husband, who she kicked out of their bedroom one night because she no longer recognised him. My well-mannered aunt suddenly started cursing with gusto when she thought people had stolen her jewellery, and came home from the daycare centre with her bag full of spoons.
That people could start losing their marbles, as my mother put it, is something I grew up with. So when my mother called thinking I’d just left her house with ‘Ina’, even though I was more than 300 km away and, actually, there’s only one Ina (me), neither she nor I panicked.
We went to see the doctor, and in March 2014 she was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, a condition related to Parkinson’s disease but with hallucinations. And over the years to come, my mother’s home and our life together became populated by resurrected members of the family, including my father, my mother’s parents and sisters, and infants – especially boys.
As a young couple, my parents had lost two sons: my older and my younger brother. They were both perfectly healthy babies for six months, then started to waste away and died unaccountably before they were 10 months old. The doctors were at a loss, one of them accusing my mother of neglect. Back in the village, people didn’t talk about that kind of thing, and hardly anybody asked.
Since then, she’d been resistant to outside help, and didn’t welcome the homecare services now entering her home. My assistance she was able to swallow by appointing me her secretary.
At first, my mother, the poet Anne Atik, had seemed just ordinarily confused. Then, very gradually, the confusion took on a pathological aspect. She...