On 1 April 1981, ten years ago, my grandmother died. I was thirty. She was born in 1905, and diabetes and Parkinson’s disease had been her chief afflictions for the last thirty years: not ignoble diseases, like cancer, but by no means negligible either. She fought back stubbornly, not out of any desire for heroics but because she needed to live. She very rarely let herself go, and then only briefly, after some emotional blow. In her last two years she started having strokes, which became more frequent towards the end, though fortunately they were not the calvary they might have been. She went to hospital several times in that final period; the last time, she never came home. Once or twice I went with her myself in the ambulance, a distressing experience; the end was in sight by then. Capitulation palpably before me, I found myself thinking about it for the first time, imagining scenarios starring myself as the hero of old age. Grief and preoccupation warred constantly with everyday concerns and the natural optimism of a thirty-year-old.

I was the oldest of her grandchildren, the closest to her, her darling; and I repaid that privileged position with frequent visits, which grew briefer in the last years when I became pressed for time. She had been alone for the past ten years, after Grandfather died in 1970, and I always remember her in this high-ceilinged apartment in Aristotelous Street, where she had lived since 1954. Her previous house, in what was then a cobbled road named Kalapothaki Street, had left me with a misty memory, which, mixed up with my own family environment, was gradually dispelled altogether by the significance the “new” place acquired in our lives. My grandfather had bought it, and it was the first home I knew with a lift and central heating.

In November 1980 she was rushed to the General Clinic. I went with her. As I write I struggle to remember details, confirming the holes in my memory and its need for assistance. In the days which followed, before they brought her home again, I went to her apartment (I always had my own key), and sat there for a long time, looked around, walked from room to room. It had been neglected for a while now; all her energy was gone. I realised that soon the spark of life would be gone from it too. The furniture, her things, anything that came into natural daily contact with her would be reduced to prosaic lumps of matter, completely dissociated from their relationship with the last person to have loved them. The fabric which they wove, with their specific places and juxtapositions, would be ripped apart, the image of the place would soon be restorable only in memory, and it would slowly fade, leaving only a few pieces of flotsam from the wreck to bob around at first and then, slowly and inexorably, sink to the bottomless depths.

The prospect of this dwindling of memory spurred me into action. I would hold on to whatever I could now that I seemed to be free to do it. I would immobilise her environment by photographing it, and in the future I would be able to look back, to remember the interrelationships, to reconstruct her movements.

It was a wise decision I realise, ten years on.