Memories of Mom’s Memories

Weekly Photo Challenge – Family (a photo with words)


Is she still my mom if she doesn’t remember I’m her son?

My mom stepped on a crack and broke her own back. This is not a silly nursery rhyme or outdated superstition, but rather a sad and true accident. Between her osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, taking her little dog for a walk can prove challenging. And the fact that she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s hasn’t simplified matters. She is a creature of habit and very stubborn, and she doesn’t even believe us when we tell her she has Alzheimer’s. She believes the doctors when we take her for an appointment, but she forgets all about the appointment soon after, and then when we try to explain again that her memory is faulty because she has a disease, she laughs like its a joke. A horrible, horrible joke. She can’t even remember that her memory is shot. It’s like denial, except it you can’t really deny something you have no recollection of. It’s more like plausible deniability, like she is withholding information from herself to protect herself from the consequences of knowing the truth.

When we took her to the neurology department for cognitive testing, the doctor explained that memory is like a table where you keep your stuff. People with really excellent memories have large tables, maybe even entire storage units with shelves and cubbies and labeled tiers. As we grow older the size of our memory tables shrink, and we are able to remember less and less. This is an unfortunate and entirely natural side-effect of aging, and even the most cognitively gifted can expect their memories to fade somewhat over time. For people with dementia (defined as a significant cognitive deficit that impedes one’s ability to perform simple daily tasks) the table has almost disappeared. When you don’t have a table to put your memories on they fade into the ether, gone forever into the dark, cluttered recesses of the brain. Sometimes they resurface at unexpected moments, but most simply evaporate, disintegrate, get lost to the inevitable entropy of space.