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The Misadventures of Mrs. B: M is for Memory

Cook. Writer. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Klutz.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

M is for Memory

I know I usually try to be upbeat for Jenny's Alphabe-Thursday, but today's subject touches on something that's held a lot of significance for me lately.

My name is Jennifer Ann.  I am the oldest of 4 children.  I changed the diapers of 2 of those children and have been privileged enough to watch them grow up (as opposed to having grown up with the other one).  I was raised in Philadelphia and now live in New Jersey.  I am married to a man named Robert and have been for 1 1/2 years.  I have worked for the same company for just over 6 years and know my job very well. 

That is who I am.  At least, a part of the big picture of me.

So what if I didn't remember any of that? Would I be any less "myself"?

I've been giving a lot of thought to memory lately.  As in, what makes memory, how is memory processed and stored, and how we recall our memories.  Pretty high-level stuff, as I'm sure you'll agree.  Of course I'm not working on these concepts at a high level.  I'm no neuro-specialist (though I wish I was!!).

When you think about it, you realize that everything we do every day is based on a memory of something we've done in the past.  We know what day it is when we wake up in the morning because we remember the day before.  We know how to bathe because we've been doing it for ourselves for most of our lives.  We dress, we eat, we go to work or work in our home, based on memories of past experiences.  Of course none of this is going on at the conscious level, but deep in our brains, little messages are being shot out in all directions.  "Make a left turn here".  "You are putting laundry in the washing machine, here's how to make it work".  "Press this button to watch TV". 

When you get down to it, much of life is lived on the subconscious level.
It's really a miracle, isn't it? All of the ins and outs we're not even aware of.  We learn over the course of our lives that our memory is reliable (well, most of the time for most people - birthdays and anniversaries notwithstanding!) and that we can depend upon it to get us through the day-to-day.

So what happens when the memory we've come to depend upon fails us?

More importantly, what happens to "me" when I can't remember "me", or I remember a different version than the "me" that exists in real life?

What makes me who I am if so much of who I am is based upon memories of myself? What happens to my world if I see it through false memory?

What if someone were to tell me tomorrow that all of my memories of today and yesterday and weeks ago were false? Would I believe them? How could I? I mean, this is my memory.  The one I've depended upon all my life.  How bizarre that must be.  I can only imagine that it would be like some sort of sci-fi in a world by yourself.  The twist ending where the audience realizes that the protagonist's world isn't the "real" world.  In this case, though, the movie would go on and on.
These are things I think about lately.  I think about them a lot because I'm watching it firsthand.  It doesn't get easier, and as I've said on numerous occasions, "The brain is a mysterious thing".  It truly is.

Jenny Matlock



Blogger jeff campbell said...

Very cool post! deep, pondersome questions you raise...I hear ya but am not certain I have an answer...i think the key is to build strong positive daily habits that would sufficiently carry through any memory "storm"...peace

April 15, 2010 at 3:38 PM

Blogger Real Life Reslers said...

Wow! We're definitely swimming in the deep end today. And I like it. Great post.

April 15, 2010 at 3:54 PM

Blogger mrs. c said...

You are so right, everthing we do is based on memories. It is so hard to put yourself in the postition of how our lives would be if we did not have any memories. Speaking of memories, what is the first memory you had as a young child?

April 15, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Blogger MrsJenB said...

That is such an interesting question. I would have to say the first one I'm sure of the date of would be Christmas morning, 1981. I was a little over 2 years old, it was my brother's first Christmas. I woke up hearing my dad and my Babci talking downstairs and hurried down. I can't think of anything earlier than that!

April 15, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Blogger JDaniel4's Mom said...

What a thought provoking post! I hadn't thought of it that way before.

April 15, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Blogger Viki said...

I have a terrible memory. I have to write everything down. My dad had dementia before he died. My mom has some now too. It makes me sad with her because she was always on top of things. Now there are a lot of things she doesn't remember how to do. It makes me a little frightened if that's how I will be because I don't have a good memory now.

April 15, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Blogger alicia said...

Love this post. Don't really have answers for either question, but thought provoking words I will ponder for some time. Who are we really without our memories?

April 15, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Blogger Linda said...

Deep thoughts! I know since my Dad had dementia how hard it is. One day he could not remember how to hook up a washing Dad, who could do anything!! It's a hard thing to watch and hard to understand!

April 15, 2010 at 8:27 PM

Blogger Prairiemaid said...

I watched my Mom loose her memory before she passed away. But instead of being that lost person with no memory, much of the time she lived in a "different place". In her mind, her memories were still in place and correct. It didn't seem to worry her that they were incorrect or totally did not happen. It was a world of her own making.

What I am trying to say, it did not seem to make her sad or frustrated to any great degree. Her frame of reference simply changed.

Very thoughtful post.

April 15, 2010 at 8:36 PM

Blogger MrsJenB said...

I'd have to say that from what we've researched, dementia is the closest thing to what's happening. And we do remind ourselves that it's harder on us than on him most of the time, because in his mind he's doing okay.

April 15, 2010 at 8:43 PM

Blogger Christy said...

Very scary to think about. I already struggle to remember normal things, and it is very frustrating. I hope it is just because I have so much to remember.
Great post.

April 15, 2010 at 9:02 PM

Blogger mbkatc230 said...

This is a very thought provoking post. I think it's interesting that for many older people memories from long ago are as clear as a bell, but they can't remember what they had for breakfast. Of course, I found my car keys in the fridge one morning, so who knows. Kathy

April 15, 2010 at 9:56 PM

Blogger GardenofDaisies said...

I truly understand. My Dad is getting up there in years and he has good days and not so good days. Sometimes he makes things up, and sometimes he can't remember things. The incredible thing is that he is still so happy, and for that I am grateful!

April 16, 2010 at 12:28 AM

Anonymous Melissa said...

You are the recipient of the Happiness 101 Award!

Check it out

April 16, 2010 at 1:46 AM

Blogger Rocky Mountain Woman said...

My sweet mother is losing her memories to Alzheimer's and it is devasting to our family. She, however, lives in her own world where my sister and her daughters are her "nurses" and a nice old man helps take care of her (my father). She sometimes gets nervous about certain things, but for the most part, she's quite happy

April 16, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Blogger Amanda said...

This was a thoughtful post. That "who am I" question is a tough one. Memories and relationships are all a part of us, and yet we are all "greater than the sum of our parts". God bless you as you go through this journey with your family.

April 16, 2010 at 2:06 PM

Blogger Jo said...

wow ... you are touching on one of my deepest fears ... loss of memory ... the whole losing me ... why do i exist if i have no associations in my little stored data bank ... really interesting M post ...

April 16, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Anonymous Melissa said...

Dementia is hard for those who have to watch it happen. I'm sorry you're going through this.

There are theories about memory and how it makes a person, and while that is pertinent to the conversation of dementia, it is not wholly encompassing of the subject.

The memories are not lost. They are there.

Again, I'm sorry you're going through this.

April 16, 2010 at 9:52 PM

Blogger Melinda Cornish said...

I think of things like this too......

April 16, 2010 at 11:05 PM

Blogger Steph said...

A really thoughtful, reflective post on an aspect of me-ness that we take for granted until the loss of it enters our lives. I was thinking of Alzheimers and Dementia as I read through this post and find at the end that there must be someone in your life going through this. I am sorry.

April 17, 2010 at 3:22 AM

Blogger Jenny said...

Jen. Is this one of your parents? I feel your pain here but even though I read this twice I'm not sure of the source...and perhaps you are not wanting to share it.

I think memories are part of what defines us...indvidually and collectively within the structure of ourselves, family and friends.

And since no two people ever share the same memories it seems like you would never loose yourself...because your memories would be true.

And it seems like if you were watching someone loose their memory from Alzheimers or Dementia the pain would be yours...and not theirs...

Because their memories would be the ones they hold in each individual moment.

And perhaps I am reading too much into this and if I am apologize.

And if I'm not please know I'm sending a little hug and a prayer your way as you deal wtih this pain.

I'm not going to grade you.

This really touched me but I think you are in pain.

Hugs and hope,

April 17, 2010 at 8:38 PM

Blogger Tina said...

I've thought about this sort of thing quite a bit too, but you put words to it. My grandmother lived with Alzheimer's for seven years before she died in February. My mother (her daughter), though only 68, is now showing signs of memory loss, as well as the loss of some social filters. I don't know which family member you're watching this happen too, but I do understand how it feels. I love your blog and will be back.

April 18, 2010 at 9:32 AM

Blogger lissa said...

what a provoking posts! I didn't realized that about memories because it's not something we think about, certainly I never thought about it. but if one would to lose their memory, they would not be the same person. because we depend on what we know to continue. great post.

April 18, 2010 at 2:05 PM

Blogger Betty (picture circa 1951) said...

I've been watching my Dad with Alzheimer's and now he doesn't talk much anymore. On some visits he doesn't say a single word. He was a salesman and politician, so he talked a lot in the past. With little memory it's difficult for him to verbalize and when he does it doesn't make sense. Very sad.

April 19, 2010 at 11:51 PM


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