A narrator relates the challenge and painful nature of caring for a sick family member struggling with memory loss.


By Lucas Thornton

At night, you seem agitated. Actually, it’s not even at night. At night, you’re usually asleep. By the time total darkness comes around, maybe around seven-thirty this time of year, you’re out, completely out. You lay there sprawled on the recliner with that Noah’s Ark blanket you sewed for your daughter, my mother, wrapped up around you. I usually carry you to your room then, shuffling past the shadows in the hallway and opening the door to your bedroom with my toes. You don’t weigh much and when I lay you down to sleep properly I can’t really convince myself that I carried another human being to their bed. But it’s no matter, no matter at all. I just do wish that you would fall asleep quicker.

I guess if it was winter then it would be easier. Night, perfect black night, comes so quick then. There’s no time for dusk. The cold just whisks it away like so many other things. But it’s summer now and dusk, evening, twilight, whatever you call it, just sits and stays there unwelcome. I see the orange, dying light shooting into the windows beside the television and I begin to watch the intensity of the light dissipate until it is no more and all is silent within the living room, including you finally, except for the television, which is on Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy right then because it’s the seven o’clock hour and game shows always come on after the nightly news at six-thirty. It’s an established fact, but you don’t seem to recall it.

Your capacity for remembrance has faded, though not faded completely, that will come soon enough, but, for the time being, let’s rejoice that you still remember having a sister who has cancer rather than not remembering you had a sister at all. She’s dead now, you know. She passed three months ago in a hospital thirty miles from here. You ask how she’s doing most days and I’m in a constant fight with myself over what to tell you. Most days I tell you the truth. “Aunt Alicia’s dead,” I say, and you look at me all confused and you say back, “That can’t be, she’s fine. I saw her the other day,” or something to that extent. But eventually, for the time being, you accept her death and you get sad. You never cry. You just become depressed and irritable with melancholy until some plaque or tangle in your brain switches on and makes your brain a blank slate once again. It’s like reliving a tragedy every day and I can hardly bear to see you go through this near-daily cycle of loss, so, sometimes, I pull the wool over your hazy eyes and say she’s fine. “Aunt Alicia’s on a vacation in the Bahamas. She won it through Publisher’s Clearing House. Can you believe that?” And yes, you can believe that and yes you can also believe the stock photos of black sand beaches I pull up on my phone as visual evidence for how beautiful the black sand beaches are. “Yeah, Aunt Alicia’s a great photographer.” I hate lying though. I hate it more than seeing you bend your head down and saying a confused prayer for Aunt Alicia every time I tell you that she died three months ago.

I’m surprised that you can still say a prayer, even if you only do it sometimes. When I was young, and you were healthy, I never saw you say a prayer. You beseeched God enough, shouting his name every time you cut yourself cooking. Mom said you were a pious lady. Once, she showed me an old church photo of you, fair-haired and bright-eyed as a girl. You won some gospel singing competition and you were smiling, but things change over time. Faith erodes and minds deteriorate. But I guess you were pious all along, if one goes by the theory one only forgets the things which are unimportant. In the case of your present state, I know it’s wrong, but it’s comforting to assume whenever I think about the arbitrary and vicious ways your brain is decaying day by day. Perhaps, as I talk to you now you are forgetting that you should grasp your hands while praying and that you should also end your prayer with amen. And perhaps you’re even forgetting that there is such a concept as God and that people pray to Him during times of distress like when you’re reminded that your sister, Alicia, died three months ago from cancer at a hospital thirty miles from here.

Night has fallen. The light that comes through the shade is now nonexistent. The crickets are chirping, and Jeopardy is on. You’re asleep in the chair, under the Noah’s Ark blanket, and your eyes flutter slightly every now and then. I’ve learned that when your eyes stop fluttering, I should probably take you to bed. Sometimes, on bad nights, you’ll wake up confused and terrified. Your mind rises from the blackness of degradation to find that this decay is still covering your mind. I know you try to fight it, but how can you fight such a thing when the miasma of decay is latched so tight upon your brain? There’s no fight. You can’t fight against decay, so you just wake up blind to the world. You don’t recognize me in the darkness and you fight against me with your small dried hands. I hold on tight until we reach the bed and I turn on the light so you can see it’s me. Then you recognize me, but you’re still confused and you ask a dozen different questions about why you’re here and what the time is. By the time I answer the fifth or sixth one, you’re usually sunk deep into unconsciousness, ready to awaken again as a slate that has been inconsistently erased by an angry and destructive child.

Lucas Thornton graduated from UNC in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in English and comparative literature and philosophy. In 2022, Lucas began a three-year juris doctorate program at the UNC School of Law.