Memory / Memories

The following is an excerpt of my forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled: "Cancer and Caregiving." The book is based on my CaringBridge journal from the time when my 44-year-old husband was terminally ill.

Memory / memories

Posted September 9, 2015 on CaringBridge

Tonight, as I cooked "Pioneer Pizza" (pizza made in a cast iron skillet), I listened to a recording of my aunts and dad singing and playing (on guitar) a number of old family favorites. It was a little slice of quasi-normalcy, at a time when normalcy is elusive, and highly prized.

As I sang "Charlie on the MTA" along with them, I vividly recalled singing the same song this summer, in my living room, with a good dozen+ people who had come to say the Rosary and stayed to sing together. It was such a great memory. It got me thinking about all the other good memories I have of this summer. (Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of other memories that are downright awful.)

I remember each person who has dropped off food, and stayed to chat and connect.

I remember teaching Peter to saute zucchini from the garden when he was practicing for his cooking merit badge.

I remember picking up the kids from the lake, and them begging to stay longer, to not get out of the water just yet.

I remember the happiness of receiving cards and messages from people.

I remember the late-night chats with friends who stopped by after everyone was in bed.

Speaking of everyone being in bed, I remember messing around on guitar into the wee hours of the morning.

I remember Megan getting confident with using the stove, and practicing her techniques for pancakes and assorted types of eggs.

I remember so many positives in the midst of the most awful summer ever.

I also remember some very difficult times --

The time after his first surgery when he didn't remember me. (Fortunately that was brief.)

The look on Peter's face, when the kids and I first discussed how the doctors can't fix dad's cancer. Peter heard me sniffling, and turned around in shock/surprise when he realized I was crying. And later that night, when Megan said, "I didn't know adults cried."

The initial meeting with his primary care doctor, when he first said, "there's something very wrong with your brain," and I sat there is disbelief, saying "are we really having this conversation?"

Each and every ER visit.

The time he was discharged from hospital to skilled nursing facility, and the handoff was handled terribly, and the needed medications didn't arrive until after midnight, and then only after I pushed and pushed them to fix the problem.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

All these memories got me re-thinking about something I've been marveling at lately: I think it's a wonder that any of our brains work at all. I mean, as I watch Dennis' memory decline, I am amazed at all the things any of us remember. Consider some basic categories of things:

vocabulary words - think of all the thousands of words you know, including spelling, definition, how to use them properly, etc. And some people know hundreds or thousands more in another language, too. (Why do I still remember "aus, bei, mit, nach, von, zu, ausser, seit" from German grammar class in high school??)

hobbies - think of a hobby - say, home improvement in my case - and think of all the tools, their names, how to use them, which projects you used them on, which saw is better for which type of cut, for example, and on and on.

songs - think of all the thousands of song lyrics and melodies you know. And commercial jingles from decades past that are still rattling around somewhere in your head.

professional knowledge - a whole, vast area that I won't even try to describe - but think of all the details, big and small, that one needs to know related to their job, and how you constantly have to integrate all that into relevant and coherent thinking related to whatever issue is at hand.

random memories - the name of your camp counselor when you were 12; what happens in all the Brady Bunch episodes; the list of Presidents that you memorized in 3rd grade; and on and on and on....

How ever do we remember all these things? Really? And how much has to get messed up -- by cancer, brain damage, etc -- in order for us to not remember then?

When I think about how Dennis has declined so rapidly, from someone who was working and living life normally 4 months ago, to someone who is now much like a dementia patient, I wonder why and how any of our brains can remember all the things I described above, and so much more. It's really amazing to me. If anyone here can explain how memory works, please do.

All evening the song "Memories" from Cats has been stuck in my head. Problem is, my memory is a bit fuzzy on it (ironic, I guess :) So, the sound track circling through my head goes something like this: "Memmmmreeees, da da da da da da daaaa / da da da da da da daaaaa / da da da da da daaaaaa" Not too good! Maybe I'll look it up on You Tube so I can get that endless loop out of my head.

Now, tonight, I have no news on the infection. I thought they might be calling as soon as today, but they've not. I feel like the other shoe is about to drop. He's been home about a month; I am predicting he will be back at the hospital soon, but I really don't know for how long, nor whether it will be a quick in-and-out or something longer involving another surgery. I'll keep you all posted.