Family, Memory, Writing

The Memory Keepers

My mother has dementia. It’s increasing rapidly, now. At first, she suffered only the loss of recent events, which my father kept secret for a while. Not long before he died, he pulled me aside and told me, “Mom forgets a lot.” But it wasn’t until after his death, that I realized how much of her memory loss he’d compensated for.

sandsoftime1In the last year or so, her dementia has progressed to long-term memory loss. Often, she can’t remember what great-grandchildren belong to which grandchild. Or where her grandchildren live. Or what they do for a living. I live across the country from her, so I’m already on the periphery of her life. Someday, I’ll phone and she won’t know who I am.

I’m reluctant to remind her of her youthful escapades she’s relayed many times throughout my life for fear I’ll discover that even those events, grooved most deeply into her memory, are now lost. Sometimes, I think of something I wish I’d asked my father before he died, and now I’ve waited too late to ask my mother many things.

I’ve always had excellent recall of my childhood, which most of the time is a blessing. But I already know I’ve forgotten some things I used to know. That saddens me. Once upon a time, I started a written record of my childhood memories. Too soon, I got distracted. But now it’s imperative that I start again. To record not only memories of my childhood, but memories of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And all that I know of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives.

There are too many things I don’t want to forget. Eventually, that book of memories may read like fiction to me, but the tales will not be lost. They will remain for those who care to know them. I will be a memory keeper. And I must begin now.

It’s never too late … until it is.

Linda

Family, Memory, Musings, Real Life, Reflections

Irony, an update

Irony is a cruel teacher. A couple hours after I published yesterday’s post on Christmas tree tradition, I prepared to decorate this year’s tree. My husband stacked the containers of ornaments in the back hall, and as soon as I popped the lid of the top one, my heart sank. Mildew. I lifted the lid and slammed it closed a second later. Not ready to believe what I’d seen, I pushed it back out on the porch.

We knew we had a leak in the garage roof, so we’ve stored all our Christmas decorations in plastic bins under a tarp. The lid on this one was still closed tight, and there were no obvious cracks in it or the bin, yet somehow water had entered this one. Where I live, it rarely rains from April to October. We had our leaky garage reroofed in late summer, so for at least seven months fungus had been growing in the container. We sprayed half a can of Lysol before even attempting to look through things. All the boxes fell apart when touched. I attempted to wash off the glass ornaments, but they were so damaged the paint came off immediately. At least seventy purchased ornaments went into the trashcan.

I hated that waste, but that’s not what upset me. The largest box in the container—the one with the thickest growth—contained ALL the handmade ornaments from my children’s and grandchildren’s school days. The kind made mostly of paper and yarn, the most fragile and most loved. My favorite bulb from my own childhood was stored in that box, as were my beautiful hand-painted glass eggs and the tree topper we’d used for decades. And my last golden bird. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Only one thing was salvaged. One. A maroon glazed-clay disk engraved with a star, made by my son, Michael, is the lone survivor. With a new gold ribbon hanger, this one ornament will now represent all my family Christmas memories.

I cried.  Of course. But what’s done is done. I must let it go. During the process of dealing with the damage, not one writerly thought distracted me. But later, after the shock wore off, I started to analyze. I wondered at the coincidence of my writing about memories and tradition so soon before the loss of physical objects that embodied some of mine. Considering the sadness, near grief, I felt when I accepted the destruction of those personal treasures, I glimpsed how truly devastating it must be to suffer the loss of every personal item by fire or flood.

There’s a lesson for me in this event. For me, this year has been a progression of losses, some minor, some not. The pessimist in me prays I’m not being prepared for a greater loss soon. The optimist hopes this was only a reminder to value what’s most important, and let the lesser things go. Any thoughts?


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