“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?