A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. ~Edward de Bono
I spent this past weekend with my 93-year-old grandma. She has dementia. She cannot remember that she ate lunch five minutes ago. Or that she has asked you the same question seven times in the past ten minutes. Or that she walked back that hallway to go to bed – three times, and three times she has returned to the living room to ask where she lives and if she’s going home tonight.
It’s heartbreaking. And exhausting. And, at times, frustrating.
Not all of her memory is gone, though. She remembers growing up on the farm. She remembers the foods her mother used to make. She remembers helping with my older brother while my dad served in the Vietnam War — though she gets confused and thinks that little boy was my nephew and the dad off at war was my younger brother.
Late Saturday night, we were talking about what year she got married. She could not remember the year or how old she was, but she did remember that she got married on her birthday. And she remembered that she and my grandpa showed up at the house of her sister and her minister-husband. When the minister-brother-in-law answered the door, my grandma and grandpa declared, “We’re here to get married!”
Grandma retold the story I have heard so many times in my life. “We weren’t wearing any special wedding clothes. We were just wearing clothes. And Don [the brother-in-law] wasn’t dressed for a wedding. He said, ‘Oh! Well, let me go put on my Sunday clothes.'” Because he didn’t want to perform a wedding without wearing a coat and tie.
Though she has forgotten so many other things, she still remembers her wedding day. She remembers her love for my grandpa, who has been dead for 29 years.
She may forget even that in few months. But, for now, that something hasn’t unhappened in her mind.
What memory do you have that you suspect will remain, even if other memories fade away? Do you love somebody with dementia? Do you want to take over remembering their memories for them, so they don’t “unhappen,” so to speak?