Thoughts on Memory
Memory is something most of us take for granted. We remember to pay our bills, we remember to feed the cat, we remember to put the garbage out. We remember to wish our family and friends happy birthday so long as we can remember when those birthdays are. (If we remember far enough ahead, we get a gift for them, or at least a card.)
Sometimes we drive past a house, or hear a piece of music, or glimpse an old photograph that reminds of a memory from some long ago time. Or we have lunch with old friends and at least once someone will say “Do you remember … ?”
What happens when that memory disappears, either slowly through disease or suddenly through injury, illness, or trauma?
It occurred to me when I woke this morning what an enormous undertaking my current work in progress, Andrew’s Journey, is. I am writing about the importance of human memory, in particular as it relates to the people we love.
My character Jake suffers retrograde amnesia as the result of a head injury in a wartime accident. He feels an outsider in his own family because he has lost all sense of what they are to each other. He’s lost all memory of the people he is closest to. I can’t imagine how that would feel. Yet I have to find a way to do exactly that.
Jake retains his cognitive memory. He doesn’t have to relearn skills such as speaking, writing, walking, even playing ball and speaking French. But his loss is frightening. Who is he?
The other side of the story is how his family reacts to this. They want him to remember. They want him to be the spirited young man he was before he was injured. They want him to recall the shared memories that made them a family. How do they handle this?
Memory and music: music is important to this book as it is to all my books. We associate music, I think, in two ways: with a memorable event is the most common. But also, the great composers wrote music that is memorable, and the music itself becomes the event which we can repeat every time we listen to a piece we love.
My book is fiction, but dramas such as this play out daily all over the world as people suffer from diseases that cause memory loss. There’s a chance Jake may regain at least some of his memory. For those suffering from Alzheimer’s, that is not a possibility, at least not at present. The patients and caregivers who live with this daily are heroes.
The next time you are asked, “Do you remember?” consider how blessed you are to be able to reply, “Yes, I remember.”
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