Sunday, May 14, 2017

Looking for One Thing, Finding Another

I wasn't planning on writing a Mother's Day blog, but something happened last evening that prompted this. It is the second year since my mother died, and in that time I have felt her presence every day. Last night I was looking for a file, trying each flash drive in my computer as I tried to remember where I had recorded it. In the process of looking for one thing, I ran across something else, kind of a metaphor for life, looking for one thing, finding another.

It was a folder titled simply Mom. Within I discovered a video that I had recorded of her with a memory jar I had given her long ago. Originally it had been a gift at a time when my mother's memory was quite good and I never thought of it worsening. I purchased a ceramic jar that had the label "memories" carved into it. I then wrote out memories that we shared or that I had of her, some from our trips together, some from my childhood. She had once told me that she always tried to create memories for us, her children, to carry forward into our lives. It was one of the reasons I took her on trips to Europe, I wanted to return the favor and create memories for her. The memory jar was an amalgamation of both of our efforts, an acknowledgement of the value of shared memory. It was a litany of what I loved in her. 

The jar sat on a shelf, high on the bookcase, until I noticed it on a visit. I took it down and had her draw out each memory and read it aloud. Together we remembered. I've written about this before in this blog, but a piece of the story that I don't think I shared, was the fact that I recorded it. I was just beginning to acknowledge that my parents would not always be there and this felt significant. I knew I would someday, when my mother was no longer with me, cherish this recorded moment,  even though I could not fully conceive of a world without her.

I've told the story of the memory jar many times. Somehow watching this video felt different than the retelling. It was the first time I had watched it, six years after I recorded it, both parents now gone. In it my mother and I sat at the kitchen table, the familiar turquoise blinds of my childhood to the side and the wall behind her with just a glimpse of some memorabilia from our travels together.  My father sat nearby in the gold chair in the living room. That chair now resides in my studio. It was just my mom and me interacting together in a world of our own, my father at the periphery as was often the case. Her smiling face, her voice, all the expressions and nuances we take for granted in another person, the things that create their essence and the essence of a relationship. What struck me was that each memory was an offering, a love letter to my mother, not only mailed, but received and reciprocated. If I ever doubted whether I had let her know how deeply I cherished her, I had only to watch that video.

It was 2011, both my parents together, but the cracks in memory had begun to show. My father had been losing memory for a long time, but we were just coming to terms with the fact that my mother was as well.  At the time, I remember being shocked when she could not recall some memories that I would have expected to be deeply embedded. Now as I viewed it with hindsight, I felt her largely intact, just a few gaps beginning to show. 

As her memory loss progressed over the years, I again went through the memory jar with her. She no longer remembered the story behind it and now gave me that sweet apologetic smile that indicated she really didn't have a clue, this was all new to her. Nonetheless she was happy to play along if I wanted her too. Fewer memories struck a chord the second and third time through. That meant I told her more of the story, reminding her of our shared history. "Thank you for helping me remember," she said. 

I understand much more about memory now than I did then. I understand how someone we love can be housed in our vision, in our heart and in our understanding. I understand how they can become part of the fabric of our being even in their physical absence. I understand how the mere act of writing about them can cause my eyes to fill with tears, not of sadness, but of deep gratitude.

I've included a very brief excerpt from my video.  I encourage you to try a similar exercise as a gift for a parent with or without memory loss.

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