Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jane: What is Memory?

Sky has been reading several books about memory recently, and we’ve been talking about memory, what it is, and what it means. It turns out that there are many kinds of memory — ranging from memories of how to do things (ride a bike, use tools, walk) to memories of things that happened to us (however imperfect or incomplete those memories are) to memories of factual information (where is the bathroom? when did the Civil War begin?).

So, I asked Sky, conversationally:

“What did we do yesterday?”




“We played disc golf.”

“Yup. Where?”


“Ummm, first we played in Waterbury. Then we played in Williston.”

“What else?”


“We got some food in between.”

“Yup. And what did we do when we got home?”




“We played Trains with Emma!”

“Right! And what did we do last weekend?”

“You expect me to remember that?!?!”

“Yes, I do. Think about it.”




“We didn’t get to listen to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”

“Yes. And why was that?”

“Ummmm, ummmm, ummmm, we were in Washington, DC at the Climate March!”

“Nailed it.”

Was it so important for Sky to remember these things? Was it necessary for me to ask him? We had a great time both days, doing fun and important things — isn’t that what mattered most? Perhaps I should have asked him about the feelings that he had those days — would that have been easier to remember? Or maybe not ask him at all (really, it was just to test out these memory theories…).

What memories are important for you to remember? How would it feel to not remember?


  1. I feel it is most important to be in the moment. And memories are in the past. Yes, they are important so I can pass along information or inform someone of some knowledge. Hmmmm, knowledge...yes, memory is linked with certain types of knowing. I play a game with my mind so that I won't experience the feelings that go along with "bad" memories...When that memory comes into my conscious mind I quickly notice and change the channel to the present (or a "pleasant" memory). Having had an abusive childhood this trick has helped me remain relatively sane and positive. I only wish I had learned it earlier in life! I wish I knew how to teach it to trauma victims.

  2. Wow, I am impressed that Sky remembered all those activities you quizzed him on. As for whether it was necessary for you to ask him ... I think as long as there is no stress in probing the extents of what is happening, then why not. As it becomes harder and impossible for him to remember, then no, you wouldn't need to ask.

    One memory that seems to persist after short term memory has really deteriorated is the tunes and words of songs. My mother would not be able to tell you what she had for lunch 10 minutes ago, but if you put on those old timey songs, she could (and would) sing every word.

    With my mother, I felt that the memory loss was most problematic early on, while she was still trying to live an independent life, but her confusion and failing memory interfered more and more. If something was not where she remembered putting it last, she thought I stole it (which hurt my feelings, but at the same time, what else would she think when her last memory was that she put something somewhere and then it was gone??). As a result she started hiding her mail, so I had to get to her mailbox and take it before she got home from her day program ... good lord. Later, when her world had become much smaller, she may not even have remembered exactly who I was ... her daughter Dorothy or her sister Dorothy, or ???, but she always smiled when she saw me, and that was enough for both of us. Everything is relative ... as far as what Sky remembers, really it only matters insofar as not remembering is upsetting to him ... and simultaneously profoundly sadly and mercifully, at some point he will no longer be aware that he doesn't remember :-(.

    Jane, my heart goes out to you both. This is such a hard road. But as I wrote to Sky, I learned a lot about love as my mother declined, and although much of her was gone, her essence remained to the end, the core of her sweet person, and I couldn't help but be grateful for that, even as hard as it all was. I hope as you go through this you will be able to find nuggets of learning and joy, along with the inevitable feelings of loss frustration as Sky loses capabilities ... it is a hard road though.

    I hope you are building in time for yourself ... remember that you have to take care of yourself before you can help another, like putting on your oxygen mask on the plane. Be sure you get respite time so that you can bring your best self to this challenge.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Dorothy. No, I don't regularly (or ever) quiz Sky on past events.... but, we were talking about the different kinds of memory and were they important, so I gave it a whirl. I've thought about memory, what it is, whether or not it is important, ever since Sky's diagnosis. I'm beginning to think that having a fun or meaningful time is more important than remembering the fun or meaningful time. Don't the gurus all want us to live in the moment?

      What things are important to remember? Whether you have had lunch? Maybe. What you did last weekend? Probably not. Who your loved ones are? Yes. I will continue to ponder this question -- what is memory and how important is it -- for quite some time, I expect. And, no doubt my views will change!

    2. One afternoon I bumped into a friend of mine who is in a singing group, and she mentioned that her group had sung at my mother's day program that day, and my mother had just glowed, enjoying it so much. When my mother got home that night, I asked her about it, hoping to raise that pleasure for her again and share the appreciation together. She said no, no one came and sang today. OK ... I didn't press. She didn't remember it ... OK. She still thoroughly enjoyed it in the moment, and had a wonderful day, and arrived home in a happy frame of mind ... a Zen master couldn't have done a better job of living in the moment. There you go, Sky, you are going to master this concept that we all struggle with.

  3. I am struck, in your recall of what you had recently done, with how much play is involved. Having fun, out and about, enjoying life. In the context of what you are dealing with as a family, you are living and active.