forget me not

My grandma, once a Teochew opera performer, has dementia. It started when my grandfather passed away and she started talking aloud to him at the wake. I don't even remember them talking much to each other when he was alive! A while later, she became unusually affectionate for a Chinese old lady. She hugged and kissed everyone, even if she could not remember your name. Several years have passed and she spends her day mostly at her favourite armchair, asleep, staring into space or fiddling with a cloth baby doll my uncle gave her. A baby.

I don't see my grandma often. And don't think often of her - or her dementia. It is not her who has forgotten - I too have forgotten.

Before we forget: Grandmother's Garden and other stories (ed. Jeremy Boo. Hachisu: Singapore, 2012) and 忘記書 (read: Wang Ji Shu/Book of Forgetting. ed.劉鋆. 依揚想亮人文事業(有): Taiwan, 2012)  are more than reminders not to forget those among us with dementia.

Before we forget is part of an initiative by Jeremy Boo and Lee Xian Jie comprising an exhibition and documentary that tries to raise conversations about dementia. The book contains some really lovely, moving, sad, powerful vignettes about mothers, fathers, grandparents suffering from dementia. They are reflections of loss, even regret, but mostly love. This doesn't make the cheeriest of Christmas gifts, but given that some 22,000 on our little island live with dementia, it is right that we know more and talk about it.

If you read Chinese, 忘記 is an "autobiography" of 劉樹田 (Liu Shu Tian) who suffers from Alzheimer's. But each chapter - starting from his birth in pre-war China - is lovingly written by his children, grandchildren, friends and students. So it is part (auto)biography, part ventriloquy for a well-loved man who had obviously shared his life and stories with many.

I should also add that they are both beautifully made books, especially 忘記書 which - as with many Taiwanese books - us amps wished we had designed it!


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