when memory ends

alongside the vinyl records in our art studio (also known as “the little yurt”) are a stack of familiar yellow magazines. the collection of yellow bindings scream National Geographic. they span across the years… tiny encyclopedias, a wealth of knowledge stacked in words and images.

for some reason that night i glanced over and looked through them. the cover of one stood out to me with one word: Memory. that word is sensitive to me. and yet i hear myself saying it all the time. “my computer is running out of memory.” and most recently “no, i can’t download game on my iphone… i don’t have enough memory.”

people say things like this all the time in passing. sometimes it gets me, mostly it does. i know that it’s my own issue with loss that makes the word Memory so tender for me. it’s such a delicate thing, this brain of ours and how it forms who we are, our experiences, our stories, and how we grow with life. it was in this frame of mind that i opened the issue of this magazine that claimed to know: “why we remember, why we forget”

it was this article (the last one in a series of topics based on memory loss, alzheimers, and other phenomenas that relate to hyper active memory or cognitive impairment) that i found myself reading aloud these words from November 2007, written from  a time long before we knew of my mother’s illness. back when my son was just two years old and nana was nana and walked with him to feed the ducks and sang him songs and offered horsey rides on bouncy knees (“trot trot trot to boston… trot trot trot to lynn!”) these stories were so incredibly spot on to the emotions that followed us into the years, there are only a handful of books that have come close to portraying the intensity of emotion that comes with life and dementia… many people have experienced this sadness and unfortunately, many more people will continue to experience it well into the future.

sometimes i need someone to bear witness to something. even though they might not know exactly how it is, how it was, how it’s going to shake down. i just need to know i’m not alone, and that my crazy is your crazy. and if we can share it for just a single paragraph, it eases the weight of it.

these words below were written by Maggie Steber and accompanied by an incredibly beautiful black and white image of her mother in bed, natural light streaming through the billowing curtains. it’s these words that i read aloud because they resonated so deeply and i wanted to share them here with you, for any of you on this path. let this be a reminder that you are not alone in whatever you’re facing.

“my mother is experiencing the melancholic voyage of memory loss. she is at sea. as her child, i have booked passage on another ship myself, to sail across the lifetime of memories that once described her life.  i photograph my mother to help me get through this voyage, creating new memories for myself along the way. i show her the photos, even if she does not recognize herself.  for her, they are postcards from distant lands.  how can she be so achingly beautiful now, even though her brow is knit with confusion? she disappears from my view before my very eyes.  with each day she nears the horizon she will reach alone, leaving me with only memories, precious memories, of her long, last journey.”

this is why i take photos of her. this is why i take self portraits of myself. this is why i am very happy to be heading south with my sweetheart in a few weeks so they can meet (again) as if for the first time.