Making Memories about Forgetting

Hat says that holidays are for making memories.

Taking pictures. Making memories. Remembering.

But when you squeeze the people you love most in the world into a house for a month, there are too many memories to make and not enough space to paste them all.  Memories of meals and walks and sunrises and swims.  My memories come home in a head that’s packed with what we did, what I didn’t do, what I still must do and I want to unpack them gently to turn them about on my palm and admire them so that I might wish up a day already gone. I want to unpack them carefully so they don’t get lost.

I care less about how I unpack my suitcase. I have lived like a nomad for six months. A gypsy. Trailing a case from house to home, from job to job. There are things rattling around in the bottom of my case that haven’t seen the light of day for weeks. That’s where that is!  Laces. A comb. My yellow fever card.

And sand. There is always a soft dredging of sand in the bottom of bags after those beach holidays. Like sugar. Or the silver trail of salt that tears leave on sunburned cheeks.  Almost indiscernible except beneath my finger tips.

But as we are building memories, catching them like fireflies in jars to hold to the light later to brighten a duller day, Mum is losing hers.

I wonder now, too late, when Mum had her stroke four years ago, was it easier to attribute all the losses to the infarct described in her left occipital lobe. Was that more palatable, less frightening? Did we kid ourselves: if she has lost the memory to read, the memory for names, if the clot that set up the road block in her brains that won’t allow her to assemble letters on a page so that they make words, does that mean that the loss is halted . That that was that and it wouldn’t get any worse?

But we were wrong. Her memories slide like entrails now, too easily, too fast, slippery so that she clutches in vain, her whole life is being mined. Excavated. Dismembered. Disemboweled.  What will be left?

The small ebb and flow of what was remembered, what is forgotten, is now a galloping tide and it’s going out, far, far out where she cannot see any of it anymore and where we can’t even recognize the outlines that she is trying to articulate.

A few years ago she could recall her grandchildren’s names with a prompt.  Begins with a K, we’d say, ‘oh Katie!’, she’d smile. And we’d be as relieved as she.

Now she does not know who belongs to who, which daughters are mine, which my sister’s. Who’s grownup son is whose.

Who are those young men?

Your grandsons, Ma, we say. As bravely as we can.

One evening, as I sit with her on the verandah, as night trips in softly dropping a hem of inky blue as she comes, I can hear a kind sea, kissing the beach with the soft suck of surf of sand, I imagine ghost crabs, rendered spectres under a waxy moon, scuttling along the tideline, I pour Mum a cold beer. Like I have done many nights for years. Like I have done every night for six weeks.

She takes a long sip and smiles, ‘When did we first meet?’ she asks.

And I know that the hard bit is only just beginning.

And I think what sad, sad irony that one of my memories this Christmas will be of Mum losing the last sharp shards of her own.

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2 Responses to “Making Memories about Forgetting”

  1. TCB Says:

    Beautiful, sensitive and most importantly readable, i have always enjoyed your work Tx

  2. TatuMbili Says:

    My mum felt a lump in her remaining breast and didn’t tell anyone. She knew she had dementia and as a nurse, made the conscious decision that she wanted to go fast while she still knew us. She died two years ago, six months after cancer diagnosis. My dad is progressing along your mum’s path, it scares me so much more than my mum’s passing. You have my understanding and sympathy. I still don’t know how I’ll deal with when he asks me your mum’s question.

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