Immortal Memory

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those round about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences, when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide.”
Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World

Whoah. There’s this story in the February National Geographic (Memories Can Be Altered in Mice. Are Humans next?) that has given me some pause for thought. Apparently neuroscientists have found a way to alter memories in mice – to get rid of old mice memories and create new mice memories. And… yikes?

I will not deny there are some memories that bring me pain. And, frankly, there are a LOT of memories that bring me embarrassment. And a few times I’ve caught myself wishing those memories could just go away. But those memories – the painful ones and the embarrassing ones, too – have taught me things that were important for me to learn. Those memories have helped guide the choices and decisions I make during the course of a day. How could I lose those memories and still keep the wisdom they brought?

There have been a few movies that have been built around the notion of memories being altered – Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Manchurian Candidate. But those were just fiction. Until now I’ve always been confident that – if I lost everything else – I’d always have my memories of loved ones and good times to help me get through the dark periods in life. As Fred Astaire sang to Ginger Rogers, I’ve always thought, “They can’t take that away from me.”

But the article in National Geographic is nudging me to go deeper in my thinking about memories and memory loss. It’s nudged me to not be so cavalier about my memories, and to ponder the nature of memories and our identity. Are our memories what give us our identity? Would we have different identities without memories? What would the world be like if no one HAD a memory?

As the daughter of a 100 year-old father who has been diagnosed with some memory problems, I’ve sometimes felt the need to give prayerful thought to the notion of memory loss. One passage that has been helpful to me can be found  in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The author of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: “If delusion says, ‘I have lost my memory,’ contradict it. No faculty of Mind is lost. In Science, all being is eternal, spiritual, perfect, harmonious in every action. Let the perfect model be present in your thoughts instead of its demoralized opposite. This spiritualization of thought lets in the light, and brings the divine Mind, Life not death, into your consciousness.”

That passage can be found under the heading Immortal Memory. Which leads me to ponder this: Is there a difference between immortal memory and mortal memory? And, if so, what is it…?

I guess a mortal memory would be a memory that can die? And “immortal memory” is memory that’s eternal?

In his book, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond (a popular progressive Scottish minister of the 18th century) shares some of his thoughts on the things that are eternal, and the things that aren’t.

In I Corinthians 13 Paul writes,”Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away…”

In response to this Biblical passage, Drummond writes: “Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it ‘passeth away.’ There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but IT WILL NOT LAST.”

Drummond goes on to write, “The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the only immortal things are these: ‘Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.'”

So here’s what I’m thinking: The mortal memory may fade or be altered, but the love behind the memory – the love that went into making the memory – that stays. That’s an immortal memory.

Dad’s mortal memory isn’t as good as maybe it once was – but the immortal memory – the memory that holds Love – that’s still there. And I’m thinking that if I were to lose all my “mortal memories” – no one can take away the Love that was expressed in them and behind them and the foundation for them. You can’t take THAT away from me. (Imagine Fred Astaire singing here…) No, no, you can’t take that away from me.

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“I finally know your name!”

I got a call that Dad was having a difficult time of it and wanted to see me. He’d remembered that Mom was gone and was grieving.

He was in the recliner in front of the television when I got there. His eyes lit up at the sight of me. The first words out of his mouth were “I love you.” I told him I loved him, too, and suggested to him that we move to a table where we could talk.

We got him hooked up to his hearing headset so he could better hear while we talked. This was the first time that I ever felt able to explain to him the sequence of events that had brought him to his current home.

Dad: Mom is gone?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Did she suffer?
Karen: No, she was being medicated for the pain.
Dad: How did it happen?
Karen: You and Mom were both in the hospital at the same time. She was on the floor above you. She had congestive heart failure. You were on the floor below her with a urinary tract infection.
Dad: We were both in the hospital? I don’t remember any of that. Why was I in the hospital?
Karen: For a urinary tract infection.
Dad: Oh. I don’t remember.
Karen: You were delirious because of the infection.
Dad: (nodding) Oh.
Karen: I’m told that someone brought you up to her room in a wheelchair so you could say good bye. But I didn’t get to see that.
Dad: I don’t remember saying good bye to her.
Karen: No, your memory of that time is gone. (pause) When Mom was released we decided to bring her to my home to care for her. We thought we had months – but when they brought her to our home we realized that she was near the end. We spent the whole day telling each other we loved each other. She told me how much she loved you…
Dad: (tearing up) Was she in pain?
Karen: No, she was under medication. I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed when she passed. In my dreams I felt this joy and peace brush past me. When I woke up she looked to be sleeping quietly, and I started to go back to sleep… then I realized she was too still. I checked on her and she was gone. I went upstairs to Scotty and told him I thought Moz was gone and he came downstairs and checked her pulse, touched her – she was cold. He affirmed that she’d passed. But… I felt when she passed… I felt like she’d touched me with love and joy as she left…
Dad: (tearing up) Where was I?
Karen: You were still in the hospital. A doctor let us use her stethoscope to tell you Mom was gone – and you grieved, but the next day you didn’t remember she’d passed. So then we sort of lied to you. You’d ask how Mom was doing and we’d say she was fine. But then I asked how YOU were doing and you said you’d be doing a lot better if we told you how Mom was doing.  (Dad laughs at himself – but there are tears in his eyes.) I decided I needed to respect you by telling you the truth… but… it hurts you. When you forget that Mom is gone would you rather we tell you the truth or say she’s fine…?
Dad: Tell me the truth.
Karen: You’re very brave, Daddy. (I give him a hug.) And now we needed to figure out where to bring you when you were released. Before Mom died, your assisted living place told us they couldn’t take you and Mom back. We only had a couple days to find a new home for Mom and you. That’s why we’d brought Moz to our home. And when you were released – we didn’t want to put you in some institution full of strangers…
Dad: (shaking his head vehemently) No.
Karen: But I didn’t have the know-how to take care of you in my home. You have memory problems (I see the distressed look on his face and quickly reassure him) – you’re still brilliant and smart and wise and funny – and you have no problem remembering what happened forty or thirty years ago – but you have a hard time remembering yesterday or last week… I think when Mom passed that got worse for you. So we needed some place with people who knew how to take care of you and could love you like we do.  The social workers at the hospital suggested we look into adult family homes and so I started calling around. The second place I called was this place…
Dad: This place where I am now?
Karen: Yes. Dave (my brother) and I decided we’d check this place out. We decided if we didn’t like the look of it we’d just drive right by. But there were bird feeders in the front yard, and cats and dogs, and… it felt like Moz had led us here for you.
Dad: (nodding and smiling) To this place?
Karen: Yes. I saw a rainbow that morning – and it seemed like a sign to me that everything was going to work out. And then we found this place and we met Gwen…
Dad: Who’s Gwen?
Karen: Gwen’s the woman who owns this place. She takes care of you. When we met her we found out she was related to your favorite author, John Muir, and that she likes the mountains, too. She and I took you up to Mount Baker last summer. And she came with us when we took you up to Rainier for your 100th birthday. Do you remember going up to Rainier for your 100th birthday? You had a ranger escort, and they blocked off some parking spaces for you, and there was a camera crew making a documentary of you – it was epic!
Dad: (shaking his head) No. I don’t remember any of that.
Karen: I’ll go get the pictures! (I go into his bedroom and find the photo album of pictures from his 100th birthday weekend.) See? Here you are arm wrestling with your grandson, Andrew (Dad smiles). And do you know who that is?
Dad: That’s Bob Ader.
Karen: Yeah. He came all the way from Colorado to celebrate with you. And here you are at Longmire. There’s Pete Schoening’s grandson and great-granddaughter… and there’s Kristianne Schoening – remember her? (Dad nods.) And see – there’s Gwen!
Dad: (By this time Gwen has joined us at the table. Dad looks up at her and recognizes her. He points to her and smiles.) I finally know your name! (Gwen starts grinning.)
Karen: (pointing to a picture of Dad with his face in the photo hole of a sign) Michael, your granddaughter Claire’s new husband, found this sign that had 100th birthday on it inside the Visitor’s Center – it was to celebrate the National Park’s centennial, but we thought it would be perfect for you, too. So we had you stick your head in there. (Dad starts grinning.)
Karen: Do you know who this is?
Dad: (nodding) That’s your son. That’s Alexander.
Karen: Yeah, he was up there with us. And there’s Casey and his girlfriend… Oh! This was a special moment – do you recognize this person?
Dad: Kenny Foreman, my old Coast Guard buddy.
Karen: Yeah. You and Kenny held hands and sat next to each other in your wheelchairs. It was epic!
(I start pointing out all the people who came to join Dad for his 100th birthday. Most of his old friends he recognizes – some he doesn’t at first, but quickly remembers after a prompt.)
Dad: (concerned) How was I? Did I carry on conversations…?
Karen: You were brilliant! You were smart and funny and wonderful!
Dad: (smiling with relief) Good.
Karen: Gwen’s grandson was with us, too – here he is pushing you around in the wheelchair at Paradise. You didn’t want to get in that wheelchair – you said you had friends up there and you didn’t want them to see you in it… (Dad starts laughing at himself) but you finally sat in it and let us roll you around.

(After we go through the album I put it back in Dad’s bedroom and ask him if he would like to go for a ride. He says yes. So we get his shoes on his feet and his hat on his head and load him up in my car.)
Dad: Let’s head for the beach.
Karen: Okay.

(We drive through Burlington for a few minutes.)
Dad: (thinking) I haven’t seen Mom for about a year.
Karen: Daddy, she’s gone.
Dad: (thinking) Was there a service for her?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Was I there?
Karen: Yes.
Dad: Did I speak at her service? Was I… alright?
Karen: No, you didn’t speak. But you took care of us. You were wonderful.
Dad: Good.

We drive by Padilla Bay and then turn back to his home. Gwen comes to help us and I ask Dad if he remembers her. He nods and smiles and says, “Gwen.” We bring him back to the recliner.

Dad: I love you!
Karen: I love you, too, Daddy!

Dad and 100th birthday rainier this one