I’ve just returned home from a too-short visit with my parents because my mother was hospitalized with a medical crisis, a situation that majorly impacts cognitive function in someone struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. While the journey for my Mom and for our family is far too personal to write about at this time, (a private journey that will become a huge part of our collective experience over these next several years) it is possible to write about some of the nuances or observations within that journey, one being how the body sometimes remembers.
I read a beautiful blog post by a writer who describes this very thing as it relates to childhood memory and the impact of the experiences that we give to our children for later snapshots of a past that otherwise seems vague or non-existent. My father thinks that sometimes I embellish my childhood memories, but I think that to some degree, he was just too darn busy trying to provide, to realize the impact certain moments had for me.
I have a whole series of snapshots from my childhood, both positive and negative. It’s interesting that most of these snapshots are sustained because of what my body remembers…the light, the sounds, the tactile sense of things. I remember clearly digging clams…the touch of the cool sand…the texture pushing hard under my finger nails…the smell of salt water…the wind in my hair…my mother’s laughter…the spraying holes….the prize, again and again, of a beautiful white object that fit perfectly in my hand.
What I noticed about my Mom this week, even with diminished memory and increased confusion, even when she was apparently agitated and upset, she took pause as her body remembered.
How many times does a mother stop to wipe circles on her dining table, dust her bedside table, clean her kitchen counter? Countless times…and that is a memory that the body holds. As my mother places her hand on her meal tray…she takes pause and her body remembers and draws circles with a paper napkin. Her body continues the work of her life. It is memory that remains.
My mother also remembers how to fold. And when I see the gestures and fluid movements of my mother’s hands as she folds the fabrics near her…her gown, the curtains, her bedsheets…it is as though I am watching her fold up the items in the laundry baskets of yesteryear…the family watching Hockey Night in Canada…the smell of popcorn…and the busy hands of my mother. When I see Mom’s body remember…my body remembers. The nostalgia of it is a blessing. The folding unites us in our common narrative.