We like to think of time as linear. Seconds building on seconds, forming the minutes, hours and days that track the path of our lives. Dementia and death fracture this line.
My terminally ill father slipped into dementia in his final months. He suffered a recurring delusion that he could travel back in time.
His wide eyes would shine with his conviction. He would arrive at some train station back in time – naked, cold, and anxious about finding his way home. He would struggle through the night, trying to track back, wandering the corridors to find the right path home. We felt helpless in our inability to calm him. At times it was easier to bring the jersey he asked for, to warm him as he faced snow flurries in 1930s France.
Feeding. Bedside reading. Brushing his teeth. Soothing him as the nightmares came. Wiping tears and spit and snot. Somehow, time catapulted us. We missed the leap. The point where child and parent reversed. Where he leapt further down the line, out of reach.
We all found comfort in the circling back. Faded photos and family stories looped us there. We stepped off the line, back to the comfort of a happier time. Jungle gyms. Birthday parties. Train riding in the park. Family lunches. Watering daisies and trimming geraniums, just so.
He left. We wept. Seconds built on seconds as days passed us by.
Months later, time starts to cycle. He appears most days in my here and now. A memory, circling back. A presence on the oceanside track. A nudge to trim his geraniums, just so.
‘It’s cold there’ you say,
eyes alight. France – 1935,
snow drifts falling in a charcoal
And all I can do is nod
in this dim-lit room with its
white walls and thick air,
swallowing my fear.
Your hands on the bed-rail
clutching tight, ready for this
night of train-riding and
leaving charts and nurses and
tubes to free walk through Paris
beneath an ageless moon.
Samantha Montgomerie is a poet and children’s author who lives on the Otago Peninsula.