Memory (or – more to the point – memories ) is a subject that’s obviously been bandied about our house quite a bit lately.
What Coombsie and I are learning about Alzheimer’s is that the things we’ve done for as long as we can remember, the things that just come naturally to us because of years of repetition, are the last things to leave the building, so to speak. My mother-in-law zips through her gardening tasks like a ruthless whippet: weeding, pulling, snipping. Watching her, you wouldn’t think that just a couple of hours before, she couldn’t explain that there was something wrong with her television set.
I’ve read about people with Alzheimer’s who don’t remember their own children, but can sit in front of a piano and play sonatas flawlessly. It’s muscle memory. My mother-in-law has always been an excellent gardener, and so this is one thing she doesn’t have to be reminded of how to do.
There are many, many things we’re going to learn as we continue to take this journey with her. And we’re going to have to learn to accept these things. Currently, it bothers her when she can’t remember something, or someone. Eventually, that’s not going to bother her. I feel, sometimes, that we’re expediting that process, whenever we try to ease her anxiety over not remembering. It’s difficult to not try and gloss over it, for the sake of keeping the peace. Taking the easy route by telling her, “Don’t worry about it; we’ll take care of it.” I have to remember to acknowledge the frustration. I have to remember to say, “I know this upsets you, but it’s not your fault.”
I cannot fathom losing my memories. I think about this frequently nowadays. So much of what I do from a creative/artistic standpoint is almost entirely reliant upon being able to call up specific memories. When I do any work with Mortified, whether it’s something of my own or something I am helping another reader with, memories are crucial in developing the direction in which the piece will go. I assign value to my closest relationships via the currency of memories. I go out of my way to keep my oldest friends a part of my life, because the memories I have of them are that important to me.
Today I heard a song (link below) I hadn’t heard in years, and it was as if the long-dormant heartbreak associated with that song roared up from a dusty corner in my head. It made the old healed scar on my heart flare up like an emotional charley horse. I audibly gasped at my desk. It was terrible, remembering that heartbreak, but could I ever afford to completely lose it? Because once I regained my footing, it made me think, Jesus God am I glad I’m not in my twenties anymore. It gave me a moment or two of tender reflection on the unholy mess I was at 23. And then I went back to my spreadsheets.
The heart, after all, is a muscle. And it remembers.
I know, it’s all terribly “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I wouldn’t want any of this wiped from my brain, and yet I may or may not have a say in the matter as I get older. Things are being erased from my mother-in-law’s mind, and she has no choice. But for now, she has the memory of weeding, of pulling out what she doesn’t want, in order to protect the things she does. Muscle memory.