Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Musing on Memory

In a week I leave for Israel with my soon to be 87 year old mother. I am a bit nervous about this trip. I've traveled many times with my mother, but our European trips were almost 20 years ago. It is a daunting thought to realize I am now close to the age she was when we first traveled together. My mother has always wanted to go to Israel, but my father was not a particularly enthusiastic traveler. By the time my mother and I began to discuss a trip, my father's health was not good and my mother would have felt uneasy leaving him. And so it languished. When my father passed away early last year my mother settled into her new life, much more comfortably than she ever imagined. As many elders she is very tied to her home and so we began to build the support systems to enable her to live as she wished, surrounded by familiar things, reinforced by reminders of her history even as memory begins to flag. I realized that familiar things and places are anchors for memory. I wonder how she will respond to the loss of those anchors when we travel. I will need to be the familiar anchor for her.

So much of my artwork deals with memory that I've become intrigued with what sticks and what doesn't. Time perception seems loosely anchored, especially when you no longer need to live by a calendar. Each day I respond to my mother's request as to how many days before I come in. "Eight " I responded today, "One less than yesterday."

"Here I have fifteen ", she said, finding a scrap of paper from an earlier discussion. "Well it was fifteen last week", I reply.

She writes eight down and I imagine all these ephemeral scraps of paper, each with a day, a point in time now past. I report to her that I will arrive on Halloween, knock on her door and say, "trick or treat". "Ooh, treat !", she exclaims in delight.

There are some memories that stay. She vividly remembers when I jumped from a train in Spain as it was leaving the station with me on it and her on the platform, getting smaller. Apparently that was a memorable moment. Recently she was reminiscing about when she worked for a dentist in Brooklyn seventy years ago. I remembered that she had told me he called every young girl who worked for him Miss B, regardless of her actual name. "I think his name was Dr Dendy" she said suddenly, a new piece of information. "Dendy the dentist", I thought, she must just be associating the sounds. I did a search online and came up with someone reminiscing about going to Dr Dendy in Brooklyn. Where did that seventy year old memory bubble up from?

The other thing she remembers are regrets. Fortunately not many of them, but she wishes she could have done more for her mother who lived with us for several years as her memory deteriorated. And she wishes she had squeezed in one more person one Thanksgiving. My mother is a kind person and her regrets are about wishing she had reached even deeper. I think it was around a discussion of regrets that the forgotten trip to Israel came up. Apparently she hadn't forgotten it. "Ok, let's do it", I said, and that failing memory closed on the idea like a bear trap. There was no going back, and so we go forward.

I remind myself that my role on this trip is as my mother's companion. She is in good health, but she is, dare I say, older, and she tires more easily. She still thinks she has the traveling capacity of twenty years ago and I remind her that we are both twenty years older. I am trying not to focus on what I want to do so I don't respond with disappointment if she needs to take a break. I remind myself that just as our other trips; this is a gift for her, but also for me. I get to create memories with my mother yet one more time. She has a refrain. "This is my last big trip" she says. "Then I'll go visit Dad."

"No hurry," I say.

"No hurry", she agrees.

1 comment:

  1. Have a wonderful trip! It's great you will be able to do this with (and for) your mother.