She forgot how to be alive

My mom’s closest friend died this week. I knew her well (as well as I knew anyone in those days) and our families were very close.

I feel sad. I haven’t felt sad about a death in a very long time. Five years ago, my grandfather died at age 90. I didn’t cry. A year later, my great aunt who I knew very well died at age 88. No tears from me.  Other people I knew have died too. I didn’t lose any sleep. (I was even a little jealous at times).

But my wise husband says that feeling sad is a good sign. He says that emotions are healthy and it’s human to be upset when somebody dies. I’m not so keen on this particular emotion.

The last time that I saw Faye was about 3 years ago. It was the week after my first manic episode. We were at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and I noticed that there was something off. The first thing I noticed was that she was wearing sturdy old lady shoes, not fancy pumps like she usually wore.

Then I looked at her more closely. She was sitting in the synagogue stooped over and her brow was furled. Like she was confused. Like she was focusing so hard to figure something out that she couldn’t sit up straight or cross her legs. Then, she started quietly asking me the names of people in our family.

She was diagnosed with some sort of dementia. She was 60 years old. Seeing Faye that day was particularly upsetting for me. (of course this is all about me).

I haven’t seen her since- but my sister tells me that it wasn’t just her memory that slipped away- it was her personality. She didn’t just forget who we were, she forgot who she was.

Apparently, in the three years since I saw her, while I was struggling to get control of my mind, Faye’s mind completely escaped her. She became confused. She stopped talking. Eventually she forgot how to walk. She couldn’t feed herself. A few weeks ago she forgot how to swallow. Her body basically forgot how to live. And so she forgot how to breathe and died.

I feel sad for her. And also for her family and for my mom. But mostly I feel sad for her.

I have an understanding of what it is like to lose yourself- to lose control of your mind. I understand how it feels to struggle with a simple daily task like pouring a glass of orange juice. To know that you used to be able to do this. And then, to eventually lose even the memory of ever being able to pour the juice.  And one day, you fail to understand that juice can even be poured. It’s terrifying to feel your mind slipping away. You can feel it.

Once, I also forgot how to be alive. I hope that I don’t forget again.

This wasn’t the same as my grandfather’s gradual loss of strength and independence after his 80th birthday. This was a sharp decline. A snowball barreling down the hill picking up a young (ish) woman and robbing her quickly of everything she ever was.

I feel sad for Faye. She must have been really scared. She watched herself drown.

Also, I sent an email to my mom today. Because… I don’t know why. Because I wanted to be kind.

Hi Mom,

I’m so sad to hear about Faye.
I’m very sorry for your loss.
I wish that I could be there to give you a hug. But I can’t.
I love you very much.
Lyla.drawing of woman's face made out of flowers