I’d really like to know.
And on those occasions when we’d spent time with family but afterwards had no memory of that time, does it mean we weren’t there in the moment, or that we were — as fully as we could be — and then suddenly that experience was just gone?
When we stop being sure of who we are speaking to on the phone is it because we have just grown hard of hearing or because we have lost the ability to discern pitch and lilt and intonation, and everyone now sounds pretty much like the teacher in the “Peanuts” cartoons? When we try and guess who we’re speaking to, we rhyme off the names of our children from oldest to youngest; the youngest being last and easiest to slip from our mental grasp, like some sort of filial equivalent of the last in, first out fisheries policy.
When we mistake a great-granddaughter for a granddaughter, it is because there is some slight resemblance between the two, or only that whenever we see a little girl a particular granddaughter comes to mind, or is it we don’t know exactly who it is, just some beloved child, and we take our best guess? I’m thinking the middle one of those, but I’d love to know for sure.
How does it work with food? Will we gradually forget certain ones until they appear alien on our plate? Will our repertoire of recognizable dishes increasingly shrink until all we’re left with are the Newfoundland stalwarts — salt beef and cabbage, fish and potatoes, bottled beets?
Will it be the same with people? Will the circle of faces we can match with names grow ever smaller, the opposite of the circles formed when a stone is thrown into a pond? Will we be left with just the knowledge of our immediate family until they, too, are gone and the only people whose names we can summon are no longer alive? Will be live in a world of ghosts and, if so, who will we think all the other people around us are? Faceless, nameless strangers? Will we be frightened then, or numb?
Will our oldest memories remain the most vivid? You’d think they’d fade like old sepia photographs but they seem to have a deeper imprint. There they are: brothers, sisters, Mother, Father, spouse — smiling and laughing and saying our name, and we are young.
But then they are all gone and we are alone again, and old, and not sure how we got to where we are, or even just where exactly that is.
Will we forget how to tell time and read the calendar and write our name in a youthful, flowing script that has always been the same? And if we lose these abilities, will they disappear one by one or en masse? When it happens, will we know we have lost something?
Will we lose the ability to recognize everyday dangers, to know that boiling water can scald and bread go mouldy and milk sour?
When we sit there waiting for someone to arrive who was never actually coming and didn’t know they were expected, will our feelings be hurt when we are told that no one is coming or will it just be another small, insignificant surprise in a life that has become one unanticipated thing after another?
These are some of the things I’d like to know, but the answers are not forthcoming.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: pam_frampton