Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours
Memory and personality are interdependent and could be seen to be aspects of each other. Both are constructs that enable us to function practically and socially, but both are tentative, fragile and vulnerable to erosion. When Erwin Mortier’s mother developed Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 65, her loss of memory was also a profound loss of personality and Mortier began to find it difficult to associate the memories he had of his once-vivacious mother with the person whose rapid mental and physical diminishment made her more of a lingering absence than a presence. Mortier’s book is beautifully written, intensely sad, unsentimental, unflinching and tender. His ability to use a tiny detail or turn of phrase to evoke a memory of his mother or his childhood or a step in his mother’s loss of memory and language and personality is remarkable. Written while his mother is still alive in an attempt to fix his memories of her lest they get sucked away in the slipstream of her departure, the book expresses the hope that, following her death, these memories will be freed from the mental decline which currently overwhelms them and that, through words, they may come together again to form an idea of the particular person his mother was. Perhaps our individuality, dependent as it is on language and memory, is what is gradually (or rapidly) eroded in Alzheimer’s, and what is left, the whimpering animal full of fear but occasionally responsive to small immediate comforts, is what we all have in common, what is always at our core, but which we obscure with layers of language, personality, belief and knowledge (all relatively recent evolutionary innovations) in order to function, to survive, to bear existence, to comfort ourselves and others.
'What makes me saddest, is the double silence of her being. Language has packed its bags and jumped over the railing of the capsizing ship, but there is also another silence in her or around her. I can no longer hear the music of her soul.'One day, the author's mother no longer remembers the word for 'book'. This seemingly innocuous moment of distraction is the first sign of the slow disintergration of her mind. As Alzheimer's disease sets in and language increasingly escapes her, her son attempts to gather the fragments of what she has become, writing a moving, loving chronicle of the gradual descent into dementia of someone who 'no longer knows who she is, where she is or what will happen.'