Tag Archives: losing my mind

My Memory is Broken. But I’m Not

“She’s broken. Falling apart, scarred for life since her daughter died,” various friends and family members have said about me. This week I was going to write about how I didn’t feel “broken,” how I believed I was stronger and better than ever. But then I lost my mind. Briefly. Just memory failure, really. But the mortification still grinds in my head.

I was sitting with a friend at a table outside the gym when a beautiful young woman stopped by. “I’m Shoshana,” she said, smiling at me with familiar warm brown eyes. Immediately I recognized her as one of my daughter’s oldest friends.
“I’m so glad you came over,” I said, my heart laughing and crying as it does whenever I run into one of Marika’s BFFs. I’m always grateful when this happens. It takes courage to approach a bereaved mother; once old friends fled the aisle in Wegmans to avoid me. Shoshana set her coffee and croissant on the table, and sat down.

“I think of Marika a lot,” she said. And I thanked her for that, told her it meant everything to me that Marika was remembered. Shoshana mentioned what she’d been doing lately. That doesn’t sound like you, I said, and then shared a dozen details of what I remembered of her. Only, the images that popped up in my head were memories of a different girl, not the Shoshana sitting before me. I’d completely confused her with another of Marika’s friends.

Suddenly, we were saying goodbye. I mentioned one more thing that was totally not about Shoshana, and she looked at me like I had cracked.

She left. And for a moment I sat there disoriented, blinded by bright sunlight and shards of memories. And then I recalled the serious child who told silly jokes, the quirky kid who couldn’t carry a tune but was so giving, so eager to please. She was one of the few young friends that would look me straight in the eye. Her warm familiar eyes. The real Shoshana. I’d last seen her when she visited Marika in the hospital.

I caught up with her. Still dazed, I tried to explain. But there is no way to account for the brokenness of a mind that can recall every detail of a daughter’s last years, and yearns to have that daughter remembered, but cannot keep the other pieces of the past straight.

If you see me on the street, in the gym or at Wegmans, please say hi. I will not break if you mention my daughter. Chances are she’s already at the foreground of my thoughts. Besides, when it comes to brokenness, we’re all on a spectrum. And a broken memory doesn’t mean you’re a broken person. So forgive me if I don’t remember your name. I know who you are. Mostly. It’s in your eyes and your smile.

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Progressive Memory Loss

Progressive Memory Loss - Using progressive eyeglasses, Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops multiple images of storyteller Regi Carpenter who suffered memory losses before her decent into mental illness.“I TOLD you these progressive glasses would not be easy to get used to. DON’T you remember?” the woman at the optician’s sounded defensive.
“Well, I have no memory of-,” I stopped. I couldn’t argue. “Thanks anyway,” I said curtly, and left before I could explode.
The truth is anyone can tell me she told me something, anything, and I would not be able to say for certain whether she did or did not. The only things I remember for sure are the blue veins like tiny trees on my daughter’s lavender eyelids as she lay unconscious in the ICU four years ago. And her red-painted toenails. And the invincible feeling that Marika could endlessly pull off miracles each time she almost lost her life. And then I remember the crushing words from the doctors that finally compelled me to put down the Ken Follett novel I was reading and memorize my daughter’s face instead.

“I don’t remember any of it,” I said to Jill Swenson, book development agent, a year after my daughter died, when I’d written a long love-letter to Marika thinking I was writing a memoir about our journey through the wilds of cancer.
“If you can’t remember the facts of what happened, you can’t write a memoir,” Jill said, smiling incredulously. Then, queasy with headaches, I kicked myself to read through my daughter’s blog posts, paperwork from the hospital, my sister’s weekly email newsletters from the bleak days of cancer, and my own daily-calendar books, to whack my memory back. Soon there were enough memories to fuel three years of writing, 200 pages, and 60,800 words. Ratted-up tissues littered the floor and my eyes turned red as all the things I wanted to forget rewound and replayed in my head.

Recently I attended Snap!, a true story of a young woman’s decent into mental illness, written and performed by Ithaca storyteller Regi Carpenter. Before she got locked up in a state mental hospital, losing chunks of her memory was Regi’s first sign that something was wrong. So sometimes I wonder if I am losing my mind.
I am not afraid of being crazy. Writing down what I want to remember now, I am not afraid of forgetting what I ate or what I read or was told. What I AM afraid of is being hurtful to another. Because I’ve learned that what life throws at you hurts enough without people adding to it.

“I will make these work,” I stubbornly tell myself, repositioning the progressive eyeglasses and my chin over tiny print. I’ve survived the death of my daughter. I’ve been through hell and back; I can do anything now.
Warning: I will walk out on you if you say to me, “DON’T you remember?”

 

Is memory loss a symptom of grief and does anyone else suffer from this?

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