'We enter this world with nothing; we must leave the same way.'
Stella MacDougall | 28 March 2017

Symmetry is a recurring motif in nature, and my husband’s life was a consummate example of this fact: entering this world and leaving it with nothing but the empty vehicle that was his body.

Every image of our wedding day has been edited by my memory, superimposed with velvet rose petals settling gently on everyone and everything. I was warned that the romance would vanish the moment I glimpsed the first letter addressing me by my new name; they said I would long for my maiden name and the sweet taste of independence that accompanied it. Our love contradicted this prognosis, neither diminishing for one another or for our marital status; instead it grew with each strange, small, wriggling bundle that was welcomed into our humble abode, still smelling of hospital soap and the gorgeous scent that lingers on the skin for only the first few weeks of life. Our love flourished with every sleepless night, listening to ineffectual wails, every spontaneous seaside trip, school play, university graduation that followed. We attended teary church services and sobbed for joy in hospital waiting rooms, thinking our hearts would burst, aching with pride and adoration for our ever expanding family.

Our home never did feel like an empty-nest: every day there seemed to be a different pair of tiny, sticky feet trotting through the kitchen, a different cherubic laugh bubbling up the stairs. Even on our own, talking at the table or sitting on the sofa, we relished every moment. Endless laughter followed those phone calls that were always accompanied by a grovelling apology: “You might need to come home, my dear,” he would say, “I forgot my keys.”

The little things grew larger and more frequent, yet we still made a joke of it with the children. “Silly granddad,” we mocked. “Dementia,” the doctors diagnosed.

Months crawled by as I sat in an unfamiliar place, on an uncomfortable chair, trying desperately to extract some recognition, some hint that a memory of our life together still lingered on. Every effort was futile; nothing remained inside the empty husk of a person, staring at me with glassy eyes, unable to recollect anything from our sixty years together: not our wedding day, not our children or our grandchildren… not me. Nothing existed for him any longer. We waited for the end.

I once believed that memories were the only things that we could take with us. He taught me that, no matter how desperately you cling on, you can take nothing. Instead, we give our memories away: invisible, invaluable gifts. They heighten people’s recollections of our shared experiences, and bestow upon them an additional perspective to view the world around them.

We enter this world with nothing; we must leave the same way.

Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia became the overall leading cause of death in 2015, accounting for 11.6% of deaths. Despite many believing that dementia is just a result of ageing, dementia is caused by an aggressive and physical disease of the brain. We can seek to halt and slow it, just the same as other diseases that we tend to treat with more concern: dementia is not natural decline. Many people suffering the symptoms of dementia feel shame and embarrassment due to the perception that their forgetfulness is a result of their age - inevitable and laughable; it is paramount that this perception is changed.


Original Image by Lucy Roberts

James Routledge 2016