Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Forgetting it

"Do you remember when..." can be the start of something beautiful, the shared memory of a wonderful time spent together.  Or it could produce just the opposite (such as sharing where we were when a horrible atrocity happened, be it the assassination of a president, the advent of a hurricane, or the crumbling of twin towers and the loss of some three thousand lives). Or it can be the start of a pathway to resolving a long-standing feud or grudge. Or starting one.

Memory is God-given.  It is a tool to remind us of better times and to help us learn from the worst times, to use to help others who are struggling with the same issues we once faced (or still face).  It might not always be pleasant. It might even hurt.  But it's better than the alternative.

Great article on Alzheimer's safety here
When a person starts to lose his or her memory for whatever reason, it can be a frightening, even confusing and distressing thing for the person or for his or her loved ones.  Ask anyone with any kind of dementia (whether Alzheimer's or permanent brain damage from decades of alcoholism!) The reasons are immaterial. Whether someone "can't help it" or "brought this on themselves" by a lifestyle or an addiction ... matters not: once the memory starts to go, it's too late to go back and fix it, so judging serves no purpose.  Forgetting where something is: from car keys to cell phones to where you parked the car to even where a particular store is located - can cause panic and stress.  Forgetting where someone lives when you've been there dozens of times before is frustrating.  Forgetting where you were going when you're half-way there is confusing.  Sitting in a parking lot trying desperately to remember why you came to this store (or how to get home) ... is horrible.  

And it's horrible to watch someone you love going through this memory loss process.  The short-term memory goes first.  Living in denial that there's anything wrong, the sufferers often blame those around them for hiding things, keeping secrets. Or they forget small things that inconvenience others, and then berate themselves when the truth comes to light.  

As the memory loss expands, the baser fears start to come out - and show their true character, which they may have been able to conceal from some people until that point.  And then the long-term memories start to go. Gaps develop in the memory that are small at first - then whole incidents, certain types of behaviors which they deny they ever did or said.  They accuse their loved ones of lying about the past, making things up, contradicting them.  They remember incidents differently than the way they actually happened.  The result is a lot of upset for them and for those who are closest to them.  Eventually they may not even recognize the people who've known them all their lives, a tragic state of affairs.  Some even revert to a child-like state and live in that pre-traumatic era for the rest of their lives, relying on others to meet their every daily need because they are incapable of doing it themselves. 

Witnessing the permanent effects of memory loss on someone's life has made me rethink expressions like "forgive and forget" and "wish I could forget that whole year..." and "forgetting those things which are behind..." all of which refer more to an intentional forgetting - a choice (though the incidents are remembered and can't be forgotten) to not let those unpleasant events define who I am in the now, even though they are a part of my history and I can draw upon them to help someone out of a rut they might be in today.  

I've come to realize that the memories I have, the experiences I have had, can be (as they say in the recycling world) "repurposed." I'd like to think that (whether the memories I have are pleasant or painful) I have lived the life I have lived so that someone, someday, would be able to look at the beautiful things that God has done in my life in spite of the pitfalls, and say to themselves, "She has something special.  I'd like to know what it is."

That would be something to remember.

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