Recently I shared my work on memory at a caregiver conference within the Jewish community. My husband built three moveable walls for me to hang my work on and we put them to the test with six paintings. They worked quite well in a space that didn't lend itself to hanging work on the walls.
I also tried an experiment with a memory jar, inviting attendees to jot a memory they once shared with a loved one who has lost memory. I had a few paintings that grew out of the theme of a memory jar I had once given my mother as a gift back when her memory was strong. Within it were memories that I cherished of our times together. After her memory began to fail, we have often sat together recalling the memories I put into that jar. It is a way to help her remember her past if only for a brief time. Building on that concept I invited others to share their memories, some of which are below:
Singing together as a duet, "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler.
The weekly Shabbat Kiddish recited by Dad.
My mom loved to bake chocolate chip chocolate bundt cake. I can still taste it.
For a non-cuddler, Mom wanted to cuddle at the end.
When I was 15 my step-father wrote me a long letter about how he would always be good to me and my mom. He took me skiing, talked to me about Herman Hesse books, helped me with math... He was/is patient, gentle, smart. He was our rock. I miss him even though he's still alive.
I am struck by how many of the memories engage our senses, singing, reciting, tasting, touching, doing things together. We shape memories every day, but the ones that stay with us involve engagement and interaction. I am going to put the jar out for our open studio event next week and see if I can build on my memory collection and ultimately use the memories in a creative project.
I have a painting called Into the Wilderness and have written in this blog about Alzheimer's as a journey into the wilderness, not unlike that of Moses. The conference did a video of people speaking about their experience with a loved one with Alzheimer's. I was interviewed about both my experience and my artwork on memory and spoke of my mother speaking of her world as a wilderness.
Oddly enough the two rabbis who kicked off the conference also used the metaphor of a wilderness, evoking Moses' journey into the wilderness, drawing the parallel of entering the unknown of Alzheimer's. They developed the metaphor quite beautifully. We are confronted with an unknown destination, vulnerable, unable to go back to what we knew and uncertain about what lays ahead. They spoke of those first steps into the Red Sea, when the Israelites were offered the reassurance of Moses, "Al tira'u -Do Not be Afraid" and of how those who came to this gathering sought a similar reassurance. In the midst of the wilderness filled with perils, they also found moments of beauty and power. I have witnessed that as well In my mother's ability to live in the moment. She takes joy in so many things, sometimes over and over.
The rabbis also spoke of loss and the loss of one's humanity that often faces one with Alzheimer's. So often one is treated as a child or ignored. In the desert the Israelites were guided by pillars of cloud and fire. They reminded us that the pillars that guide us in this journey are love, respect and tenderness. They spoke of the isolation of Alzheimer's and how communities such as this gathering helped to respond to that. And they spoke of the manna that would sustain each person on the journey with their loved one. They both opened and closed the conference with the words of Moses when he realized that he would not accompany the Israelites on their ultimate journey. Hazak V'ematz - Be strong and resolute, and fear not, for God is walking with you. (Dt. 31:6)