I sat with my mother on the sofa and we both admired the fire.
Mum said, “Quick, take a photograph of it, Malini! It’s so beautiful!”
“Why don’t you take the picture, mum?”
“Oh yes, I forgot, I’ve got a camera here and I can take photos too!”
So we both sat, side by side, taking pictures of the fire, and comparing our images on the digital screen. That’s mine you’re seeing at the top of this post.
Mum loved it. She couldn’t decide what she was more excited about – the beauty of the fire or the photographs of it that we were both taking.
About 5 minutes later, she said, “Just look at the fire, Malini! Quick, take a photograph of it! It’s so beautiful.”
Mum has Alzheimers. Her short term memory is shot, her personality has changed, but she still knows a thing of beauty when she sees it. And the wonderful thing is that because she’s forgotten that she’s seen it just a few minutes ago, she relives the beauty all over again, 5 minutes later. This can get difficult if you’re her carer (that selfless task belongs to my sister), but when I’m visiting, it makes for very easy conversation. I never have to think of new things to say 🙂
Mum laughs a lot, thank God. We tease her and laugh with her at her strange behaviour, and mercifully, she hasn’t lost her sense of humour, it’s just taken a different turn. She hates her dentures, and many of the jokes in the house are around her teeth.
One of our favourites:
“Let’s go outside for a walk mum, it’s a lovely day!”
“I’ve got teeth in my mouth!”
It made perfect sense to her.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the passing of time and about getting older. I think most of my brain likes me better now than it did was I was say ten or twenty years younger. I’m softer, kinder, more awake to life. I’m more grateful for everything – the gratitude begins first thing in the morning when I am grateful that I can pee in a toilet. That I can pee at all. Then there’s breakfast – I’m thankful that I don’t (usually) miss my mouth with the fork. And so it goes.
But there’s this one thing about getting older that I haven’t come to terms with. My once brilliant memory that could recount entire long conversations, verbatim (much to the annoyance of Greg, who would regularly and conveniently forget everything he said he would do) … that once brilliant memory is now, well, not so brilliant.
I just spent four lovely days in Tasmania with Shirin, my childhood playmate and cousin. We shared many hours reminiscing about our childhood escapades. I recalled, for example, The Great Chewing Gum Theft of ’69. When we ran down to the corner shop, stuffed chewing gum down our knickers, and ran home without paying.
Now, I’ve recounted that episode of my criminal past, in graphic detail, many times. But when I told the story to her children, Shirin ruined the dramatic pauses by correcting me at every comma and full stop: It wasn’t in that town. It wasn’t that kind of shop. We weren’t six years old. It wasn’t even chewing gum.
Almost every shiny facet of that childhood adventure that I’ve remembered so fondly, so accurately, were different in her memory. (In case you’re wondering, my life of crime was averted by the quick action of my older sister who threatened to report our felony to Shirin’s dad, the Chief of Police. Yes, he was actually the Chief of Police. My path to prison pretty much ended right there).
Anyway, my cousin Shirin could have remembered it wrong. But Shirin’s pretty sharp, so I suspect not. Where does this leave me? My long-term memory is dodgy. My short-term memory…?
I regularly forget what I’m heading down that aisle for in the supermarket. I begin sentences and forget the point I was about to make. It takes me about sixteen trips to the kitchen to remember why I was heading there.
If ‘time is the fire in which we burn’, is my memory turning to ashes?
Sometimes it feels like this year has slipped past me like a half-formed thought – there one moment, rife with possibility, gone the next. But I don’t want to forget this year. I don’t want it to join the giant pile of forgotten thoughts in the bottom left hand corner of my brain, the brilliant ideas, the life changing moments, the loving kindness of so many people, the grief, the bittersweet memories of Greg’s last days. Or our first days. Or all the days in between.
I wept about this one night, unable to get past the thought that was haunting me: That I would forget our lives. When I finally did sleep, Greg came to me in a dream. He put his arms around me from behind, young, strong arms that led me to the base of a giant, ancient, Moreton Bay Fig tree. Greg loved those trees. In the dream he carefully searched for a spot that fit our bodies perfectly, then gently led us to sit within its massive roots, his arms still encircling me as the great roots encircled us.
It was a strangely comforting dream, where he made me remember what I had half forgotten in the waking world, the feeling of his arms when they were strong, that he and I were bound together by something other than memory, something ancient and old and beautiful.
Perhaps my worries about my memory don’t really matter. Besides, the interesting, near-criminal aspects of of my childhood are safely stored in my cousin’s brain. Everything else is probably preserved in the memories of younger relatives. As time goes by, maybe I’ll just remember the Truly Important Things.
And when all else fails, there’s always my dreams.
“What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day.
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.“