Precious memories. Of people, places, events. A moment in time, so full of emotion you know you’ll never forget it.
Yet, forgotten it becomes.
Unfortunately there are a lot of illnesses and conditions that affect our ability to access memories. The information may be in our brains somewhere, but the precious memories may as well be lost – if we can’t remember how to access and relive them.
Pain and grief are normal emotions, when we realise we’ve lost memories we thought we’d keep forever
Neurologists have confirmed that our brain holds all the information we’ve ever gathered in our lives. Our brains collate and store every piece of data in a huge vault that is larger than any computer storage we can imagine let alone manufacture. Most of it we never need or use again, but it’s there, collated and stored. Some of the information and memories are precious to us. Unfortunately with age, and some illnesses and conditions, we lose the ability to access even the information that we’d like to remember. So we grieve, or get angry, over the memories we’ve lost.
A few weeks ago my husband and I were delighted to welcome old friends from France into our home.
The visit was very welcome, but it has also brought home two things:
- how many memories I’ve lost since illness scarred my brain, and
- how hard it is to trawl through my brain trying to mesh together any pieces that I can remember.
I remember the past piecemeal. Somethings I can see quite clearly. Other times, I have no recollection at all – even though my husband can remember the event in considerable detail. Oftentimes though, I remember a piece of something. A walk along the beach near St Tropez; a distinctive hotel room with exposed, ancient oak beams; the sound of cowbells in a Swiss flower-filled field; the taste of freshly made crepes with chestnut sauce; the joy of seeing Mont St Michel for the first time; emotion that filled my soul so much I can still find it today.
We stayed with our French friends when we visited France many years ago. They were generous in their hospitality, and generous in showing us around Normandy. We lost touch when we first moved to Melbourne. It was a great delight to reconnect a few months ago, and marvelous timing as they were able to let us know of their planned visit to Australia.
I cannot remember much French language at all. I was never good at speaking French. In fact, I was the opposite of fluent – slow, ponderous, and with an appalling accent. I learned French when my husband and I traveled to Europe several times. I remember very little – “avez vous une chambre pour ce soir” is a phase that’s stuck! It’s certainly not enough to have a proper conversation in French 😀 Luckily our visitors speak very good English.
Over lunches and dinners, in restaurants and at home, we talked about our shared memories. Except I couldn’t join in all of the reminiscing.
It saddens me when I think of the memories I can no longer access. Of all the things this illness has given me – constant pain, weakness, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate. It’s losing touch with my past that torments me the most. I have to work hard now to remember who I am, where I’ve come from, the journey that I’ve taken during my years on this earth.
I wonder if this is how people with dementia, or Alzheimer’s, experience life when they are trying to remember things? It’s not a good feeling. My heart goes out to them, to everyone who suffers in this way.
What can we do to try and ease the pain of lost memories?
I’m not a qualified practitioner, but I’ve been doing this for over six years. This is the advice I give myself (on those occasions when I need a good talking to), all based on my own experience:
- Stop trying so hard.
- Sometimes the more we struggle against something, the tighter it binds us in knots.
- Live in the moment.
- Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, touch, to everything that surrounds you right now. Free your subconscious to explore on its own.
- Let other people fill in gaps in your memories.
- Listen with interest and love rather than anger and dismay.
- Their words may trigger a new pathway in your brain to access the information that is stored there.
- Use all of your senses to both live in the moment and remember the past.
- Don’t just look with your eyes, those of us gifted with sight tend to rely on it too much.
- Use sound – music, the sounds of nature, the sounds of occupied humans.
- Use smell – the aroma of food, flowers, human activity.
- Don’t forget taste – don’t just try and remember the taste of something, eat it and let your subconscious try and find a connection with a memory somewhere in your brain.
- Accept the new you.
- Let go of the fear that you are losing the real you, the one that used to be.
- Every version of you is the real you. None that are or will be are a lesser version of the one before.
Some advice for anyone who cares for and loves someone with lost memories
Images are from the fabulous site pixabay