“I didn’t feel well last week…or maybe it was the week before, but in any event I had this cold…well, I think it was a cold, but I had to take an antihistamine, because I was so stuffed up. I can’t remember the name, but it worked pretty well,” Doris told us.
We were on our way to a lecture in Sarasota, and as usual the conversation in the car was non-stop. Women get like that when they are in a bunch. They get all their talk out sometimes even ‘over-talking’ each other. The thoughts come fast and furiously. Not unlike the market places of yore where women exchanged gossip, recipes, cures and ‘women’s subjects’, we too are hungry for this prattle. We learn as we listen, we laugh at each other’s foibles and we give each other ‘attaboys’ not always tendered by the opposite sex.
I confess, that much of our talk revolves around politics, health care, and recipes. We are information junkies with both liberal and conservative leanings. At our age, it is unlikely that we would change our minds about much, but we do enjoy the exchange of ideas; even though we often forget the salient points we were attempting to convey. Little stuff gets lost in the larger argument or discussion. We call it having senior moments.
Even the most mundane conversations seem to include a lot of ‘let’s see, I can’t remembers’. We find it amusing in a sad sort of way, because it is an affliction that most of share. We have an underlying fear that we might, just might, be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. And so we console each other by laughing and saying that we too, are becoming increasingly forgetful and then we tell each other the last funny forgetful moment we can remember. My husband has a wonderful analogy, which helps us get past the “I wonder if I am getting dementia hysteria.”
He says picture your brain as library. Try it. Just close your eyes and picture a library. Make it your own. Stand there as a child and look at the shelves. (stacks). How many books are there? As you age, add books and look at the shelves again. You will notice that to retrieve a book you have to do a little more searching as you walk up and down the aisles. Finally, take a deep breath and think about the accumulated knowledge that you are storing in your brain (library) and realize that all of that information is not readily at hand. It takes time to get to it and sometimes it is buried too deep to retrieve.
Using this analogy, we can justify our momentary memory lapses. All the really important stuff with which we need to navigate through our daily lives is up front and the trivia keeps getting pushed further and further back. Each phase of life, adds volumes.
My library is getting pretty full. It is filled with information about thousands of topics. Some are visual while others are tangible. One’s memory stores sensations as well as words and ideas.
We all have sections for:
Genealogy: It changes with marriages, births and deaths. It grows by addition and deletion. Each date is significant, each name denotes a connection.
History: Everything we learned about what was and who was. Spartans and Tudors, Columbus and Geronimo. There are the first settlers, the first president and the first man on the moon. It includes exploration and invention. War and Peace. Everything before today is history.
Geography: The places where we have lived and traveled. The lands of our ancestors, the destinations of our dreams, the sites of war, discovery and creation are located here.
Economics and business: What we have learned about math, real estate, investing, estate planning, taxation and trade.
Literature, religion, philosophy, commentary, and opinion occupy a whole room. It is warm place, which smells of old leather and furniture polish.
Science, technology and communication take another. The room hums and vibrates with every new addition. An entire sub-section is set aside for i stuff. Oh the wonder of it all!
There are shelves for parenting, gardening, cooking recipes home improvements, decorating, health, medical records, diet, and hygiene. They are updated constantly, as outdated material is rapidly replaced with current and popular protocol.
Furthest away, we store the unpleasant, the cruel and the painful. We hope that they will never come forward. We want joy and laughter, friendship and love to be in the first stack.
Doris said that memories associated with guilt, embarrassment or humiliation are easily recalled. Regrets are one of the strongest emotions we have. I agree with her.
Each thing we have done, seen, smelled and owned is in our library. Every thought, every memory, every kiss and hug is stored somewhere in our brain. Doesn’t it seem rational that the more we have stored away, the more difficult it would be to retrieve?
We who are well shelved and over stocked are entitled to some wait a minute-I'll think of it... time-outs, while we mentally search through our bookshelves, trying to find that salient fact or the name of an author whose book title we also cannot recall. And sometimes while we are searching we stumble across some other information that seems more relevant or urgent and our original mission is put aside by this brief interruption. " Now, what was I saying?”
Forgetting can also be a way of coping. Remembering too much can be detrimental. There is that wonderful adage that states, “ Some things are best forgotten”.
When my own mother was struggling with dementia, she would ask me not to show her pictures of her youth. She had great difficulty remembering when she was young and happy. You see, recalling the days of youth no longer brought her joy. Joy was replaced by loss. So, she literally cleared her library of yesterday’s news. Her library became very small and child like. She lived in the here and now. No longer did she care about her most embarrassing moments, no longer did she care about being appropriate. Time had no relevance and immediacy was all.
What amazed her caregivers is that she remembered how to play bridge. How could someone who had dementia remember to play such a complicated game?
I will let the experts figure that out. But I believe that when she reduced the volumes in her library, she left a few favorites on the shelf, which would astound, baffle and entertain. During one of her clearer moments, when she realized that she could not find words to answer one of my questions, she turned to me and said quite emphatically, “You know Anne, I’m not a fool. I just can’t remember.”
" I know, Mom, I said. "We all have our moments."
© Anne Segel Armand 2012.
This essay was featured in Mature Years a publication of the Methodist Church, The Jewish Journal North of Boston, The Pepper Tree Literary magazine and the Senior times.* att:curledupwithabook.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/uris-library-stacks/