Illustration by Shenuka Corea

Fear of Loss

Loss doesn’t have to occur in death, because there are other ways in which you can lose someone. And it’s terrifying.

Mar 24, 2018

Whenever I am asked “What is your biggest fear?”, I think of wasps, hair loss, shark attacks or the demon girl from The Ring. Or I think of clichés like failure or betrayal. But I found out the hard way that fear will come to you in ways that you could never anticipate.
It accompanied the loss of memory. My grandfather has dementia, and his memory has been quickly deteriorating with time. All forms of amnesia have always been something I had watched on television. It was a distant concept that I studied in my psychology classes, but it was always something behind a curtain, outside of reach.
Two summers ago, my grandfather fasted during Ramadan against his doctor’s orders, went out in the sun and had a heatstroke. That was when he began to forget. At first it was small things, like where he left his car keys, or forgetting to take his medication, but my grandma was there. She was his memory. It wasn't too bad.
The following summer, once more, during Ramadan, on another hot day, he had another heatstroke. You’d think he would have learned his lesson the first time, but my grandfather was as stubborn as a rock. It made me angry, because it felt like he was being selfish. Why couldn't he take care of himself as he should?
But I wasn't angry at just him. I was angry at my father as well, because I thought he wasn't taking it seriously enough. I'd poke and prod my father, telling him to find some way to help my grandpa, but my dad eventually confessed that there was no cure. They've taken him to doctors, tried all forms of herbal medicines and prescribed ones and nothing was slowing it down. This led to a different form of anger: anger at my helplessness.
More than feeling angry, I felt afraid. I realized my grandfather's denial of the weaknesses of his body was also coming from a place of fear. It’s terrifying to admit that you are losing control. I don’t blame him, but I wish he wouldn’t be so stubborn as to hurt himself again.
In my own life I've found that having control over different aspects of your own life is freeing. I also know that, at times, those freedoms where I have control can be taken away from me, and I see that in my grandfather now. Having control over the smallest things, from what meal I will have next, to what courses I will take, to feeling free to go out whenever I want to, are incredibly liberating. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like to begin losing control over your own thoughts and memories.
The second heat stroke had catalyzed a progression in his loss of memory, both short term and, slowly, long term.
Whenever my grandfather would see me on the weekends when I visited them in Sharjah, he would make his usual joke: my, my, it’s been too long! But now I’m not sure if he really means it when he says, I haven’t seen you in months!
When someone talks to him now, it’s like talking to a broken record. The same conversation takes place over and over, because he would have forgotten he had already had it.
My family threw him a birthday party at his home and, the following week, celebrated another family member’s birthday. During the second celebration my grandfather told his family that he was deeply upset. When asked why, he asked: “Why didn’t you celebrate my birthday?” It was not until we showed him images from his celebrations that he believed that it had really happened. His memory was not sparked by the images, and he looked at them in complete disbelief.
My father and his brother and sisters hardly ever talk about what's happening. There's a silence hanging thick between everyone in my grandfather's life, because it's not easy to admit that we are losing him. One of the things that scares me the most about all of this is that my grandfather is the last generation in my family, and in many families, that live and remember Palestine as it was before the Nakba. My grandfather was 15 when his village was destroyed on the outskirts of Yafa. My grandfather embodies a people who know what life used to be in Palestine, but it's beginning to fade away with him.
This loss has shaped my biggest fear. Some days, I look at my father and wonder if I will lose him like I’ve lost my grandfather. Whenever my father casually forgets something, my heart stops, afraid that he’s already peeking behind that distant curtain. Will I see the same happen to my brother? What if I will be the same, and my own children have to fear losing me in more than one way too?
Loss doesn’t have to occur in death, because there are other ways in which you can lose someone. And it’s terrifying.
Nada Almosa is a contributing writer. Email her at
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