Today’s topic was set by Vicki Mallows. I took a slight liberty as Vicki asked for the shift/ day I’ll never forget… it’s gone in a slightly different direction.
Do I have a day I’ll never forget? A whole day?
I could say I do… write that day… but mostly I really don’t. I have parts of days, fragments and moments. My memory plays tricks – re-conditioning the past in accordance with present information.
Days that are “meant” to be memorable – Wedding Day, Graduation, Significant Birthday etc – are sometimes less memorable than Normal Days Where Good Stuff Happened – a long walk in the hills on a sunny Saturday. Swimming in the North Sea in April this year. Looking out over Barcelona from the outdoor public swimming pool (the one where Kylie filmed her “Slow” video) on a hot summer day (OK – so not “normal” but you get the idea)
Then there are parts of days seared into my memory for more awful reasons – the news of my father dying came at the very end of a perfectly “normal” day. I was out at a dinner thing in Edinburgh – I remember the phonecall, the earth shifting under my feet, my world dropping away – forever altered and not even beginning to understand that in the moment.
Memory is such an important part of who we are, and is so bloody unreliable. No wonder life gets complicated, sometimes. We are creatures who live in moments, responding to the Present based on stuff we have learned in the Past, reaching toward a desired Future-state, sometimes without even knowing we desire it. We are wonderful and strange, noble and occasionally unwise. We do our best. We base many of our choices and decisions on memory and story-of-myself, and these are so ludicrously fluid and fickle – we fool ourselves that we are rational, free-willed…. Sometimes? We really aren’t.
Remembering and forgetting takes on a different resonance when you live with or witness something like dementia, particularly in a loved one. The slow dismantling of a life, the fading of Things Remembered, piece by piece is the painful and galling consequence of a brain atrophying. And it is cruel beyond words. As the person loses their memories – they lose themselves. My mother was diagnosed at 58 with early onset. I don’t remember the day of the diagnosis, because by the day it came, we knew it was something akin to this. Months of her making multiple phonecalls on the same night, saying the same thing. Car parked-and-lost countless times. Blank looks over afternoon tea as a well-known story was told. Unable to find the bloody word for the crossword puzzle, despite knowing the answer. Her terror at what was happening to her. Our woeful inadequacy in knowing what to do, how to deal… I have forgotten much of that time – these are things I can’t bear to remember, to dwell on… intolerable memories wrapped carefully up with a Warning Sticker on them. Open with caution. Only now, when friends are facing similar things with their, more elderly, parents do I return to those memories.. and then I can empathise, ask questions, understand the complete hopelessness they feel – that sense of ineptitude, of impotence.
Remembering is important.
Remembering how to remember without derailing yourself is also important.
It takes practice.
So the day I’ll never forget doesn’t exist. .. and I quite like that. I quite like that my inner-hardrive only stores certain things… the stuff that’s in there can serve me well. The memories I’ve made, the memories life has forced me to make… these are the very foundations of who I am and what I can choose. I’m pretty happy with that, to be honest.
And… all of this has led to my “deathbed” philosophy – the one that goes: when I’m just about to shuffle off, I want to look back (because I’m refusing to have dementia. It sucks. I’ve unilaterally decided it’s not for me) and go: Good Memories. Life Lived. These are my Unforgettable things.
Yes. I think that works.
Ouch. This one… this one got me as I wrote it.
I rarely, if ever talk about my mothers dementia. In part it’s out of respect for my family. I am not the only one who lives with it. The story is only partially mine. In part it’s just so loaded and emotive….I’ve done my own “work” around the illness and the loss and the grief – but you start talking about it & others also want to talk…which is fair… and sometimes, selfishly, it’s hard enough working with it. It’s a self-preservation thing.
Sometimes it’s good to talk. Sometimes, not so much.
I’ve debated whether to publish… basically because stuff will come back and I’m not sure I want what comes from unwrapping all of this. I’m a little scared.
Mum is now 76 and has been in a care home for a good few years. As someone who has survived with dementia for around 18 years, she is unusual…and now part of a Stirling University study into communication for advanced dementia patients. Her illness means we have, as a family, lived through every non-cheery emotion known to humans. We have mainlined guilt, anger, anxiety, sadness….and, like millions of others who have had dementia in their lives – somehow you continue to live…. If you are anything like me, it means you just want to live as much as you can with as much joy as you can muster.
The writing is bleaker than I expected – lots of death and loss.
I don’t like dwelling here. My preference is more sunshine…