I've been trying to come up with a new way to frame my mother's eroding memory. Like, what good is a memory, anyway? Or: if you don't have memories anymore, maybe you don't need them anymore? There are certain stories she always tells, stories of her childhood that are so vivid to me, so known to me, that I feel as though I must have somehow been there. But then the other day, I asked what year her father died, and she couldn't recall. I watched her sift and search, and get frustrated, and so I changed the subject or something else distracted us and we moved on. I know she was in her early 20s. She knows she was in her early 20s. The rest is just reminiscing.
Often, after I tell her a funny story about the kids, something one of them said or did, she'll say, "Make sure you write it down. Write it down so you always remember it." Or, "write it down and send it to me." In the beginning, I'd get impatient, dismissive--"yeah, Mom, okay"--or worse--"I'm not going to forget it." These days, I see her point more and more. Why else keep an archive, or in my case, various online archives? Why write anything down at all? Aren't I always trying to preserve the minutes and years, too? Even fiction writing, stories and novels themselves, can be a kind of time capsule.
Selfishly, I want her to remember all of it. I want a living record of an extraordinary life. It seems her short term memory is suffering more than her long term, so pedestrian conversations can be difficult. I'll mention something at the top of a phone call, and come back to it four or five minutes later, and she'll ask me what I'm referring to. It's an extremely disorienting moment, that moment--you are pulled into the forgetting, and it becomes yours, too. My instinct is to snap (my instinct is always to snap). What do you mean, what do I mean? I just told you! And I've done that. But I can't do that anymore. It's funny how there's this underlying belief that 'not remembering' is the same as 'not knowing'--it's one half-step away from conflating someone's straining mind with ignorance, or worse, stupidity. So I have been trying hard to make sure, just as a baseline, that I don't make my mother feel stupid.
The other thing is--and I guess this is the bright side, and also a cliche I'm desperately trying not to use: what we have, all we have, with one another, with ourselves, with this earth, is the present moment. Not the thing we referred to five minutes ago, or the thing that will be important tomorrow. It can make logistics take longer and feel more complicated, but it's true, and these days, a comfort to me. I'm practicing this, when I call her each morning: "Hi Mom. I love you. How are you feeling right now?"