A Sudden Burst of Clarity

by Ms Jinny Koh


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash


Memory is a tricky thing. How often have we reminisced about the past, as if it had only recently happened, yet when asked what we had eaten the day before, or about an article we had read not too long ago, our minds would draw a blank?

When my late grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, her reality changed. It didn’t happen overnight. Instead, day by day, she started confusing her past with her present. Little by little, she started losing grasp of who she was and the people around her. I can only imagine how her debilitating disease must have warped her sense of time and a lifetime of memories.

“Mama, do you know who I am?” I would ask whenever I visited her at the aged home. My mother, who was usually with me, would utter the same question. On good days, a glimmer of recognition would flash across my grandmother’s face. But on most days, she would call me by my cousin’s name or stare blankly at us.

I still remember the day I saw her for the last time. It was her birthday, and my mother and I had brought a cake to the aged home. My grandmother looked more frail than usual and was drooling excessively. We tried to feed her the cake, but she didn’t have much of an appetite. As we were about to leave and said our goodbyes, my grandmother – who wasn’t particularly interactive throughout the celebration – started sobbing and said she wanted to go home with us.

They say when a person with dementia is about pass on, sometimes, they will experience a sudden burst of clarity. Dr Michael Nahm, a German biologist, coined the term terminal lucidity to explain this phenomenon.

For my grandmother, there was also that moment of clarity. I’ve never witnessed my grandmother in tears before, not in the various visits I had made to the home over the years. She also seldom asked to go home. As she gazed at us with her watery eyes, I knew that she was aware – she was aware of who we were, where she was, and what was about to come.

A week later, my grandmother passed on, taking with her bits and pieces of her memory however hazy they might have been, and hopefully, enough clarity that comforted her in those final moments.



NAF programme title:
Somewhere in this Fog of Memory