We went to visit Mum a couple of weeks ago in her care home. It’s a lovely place with wonderful staff who clearly do care and she is now too frail for me to look after, but it still tears the heart strings to see her there. We take her a lovely framed photo of her with Dad on holiday in France. ‘Ah yes that’s me, but who’s that man in the photo with me?’ A knife to the heart.
She’s just getting dressed so we go next door and when she comes in five minutes later, she’s delighted to see us all over again. We smile and laugh with her but she breaks our hearts with each visit.
So who are you if your memory has gone, if you can’t remember the man you were married to for forty years, or even what you had for lunch? Is there any ‘you’ left?
The Argentinian writer, Borges, wrote a wonderful short story ‘Funes el memorioso’ about a man who remembered everything after an accident. Remembering everything of his life in detail meant that he could never rest.
But losing your memory means you lose something that defines the youness of you. Friends, relations, holidays, meals taken together, sad and happy times. What makes me me is certainly in part a collection of memories. I like ice cream but hate broccoli. I know this area like the back of my hand. Where I was when I fell in love.
But it turns out we’re not just memory. Mum is still definitely Mum, the gleam in her eye, the way she turns her face to get the full sun when we take her into the garden, how she squeezes our hands when we leave. And while it’s infinitely painful for us, as we are aware that soon she won’t remember our names either, for her she is completely in the now. The sacrament of the present moment.