Hold Up @ The Memory Bank
While I think we may touch on how memory is the process in which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved* this article is not going to be a write up on the latest technology development. November is remembrance month and today I would like to talk about memory loss. But before we do that and getting us all embarked on a trip to memory lane maybe I should provide some contextual and historical information first.
I was kind of raised like an army brat you see, born in Paris but found myself living near the German border three weeks after, that move would set the tone for what would become a fairly nomadic lifestyle by Western European standards. My father worked for Gaz De France and headed up an engineering squad who was busy turning the national gas network to twentieth century standards, the assignments were short enough that there was no point in renting hence the three of us lived the first three years of my life in a caravan, I enjoyed the convoy of white vans and coloured caravans that became my playground.
When I reached school age the decision was taken to dump the caravan and rent flats instead, having said that I still attended too many schools I care to remember probably three schools per year or two only if I was lucky. Being a sponge I picked different accents and always ended up with the wrong one that’s the story of my life to this day (:-)).
From birth to roughly age sixteen the only geographical stability I could rely on was the summer holidays spent @ my grandparent’s stud (on my mum’s side) when every year for two months I would ride horses, play hide and seek with cows and hens and generally have great fun while enjoying the culinary talents of my grandmother, on that note her legendary stuffed tomatoes deserve a special mention (slurp!!). I have built up great memories from those summers I shared with my cousin which was the closest to what I imagine a brother could be.
At age fifteen and a bit for what would be my last real summer @ the stud I was introduced to Alzheimer thru my grandmother, not a great companion I dare say even If I had no real clue of how harsh and how deep it would take its toll on all of us. Today I know a bit more about it and the Alzheimer Society in UK gives a brief but good description of it: Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.
In my absence dementia had made its intrusion gradually from the onset of the previous autumn and while I had been spared the news up to then, the day before my departure for the Normandy seaside my mother gently broke the news that my grandmother was not well in fact I had to prepare myself for a shock including having to deal with her absence of lucidity.
In reality it turned to be harder than I thought I had never been confronted to anything of the sort before. It sometimes turned out to be funny in a twisted kind of way especially when she insisted in adding chocolate to an omelette but there was also some sheer moment of anxiety when she did not recognize me or when she nervously flooded the room with tears when not able to articulate her thoughts….
I had never experienced anything like that and I was not emotionally equipped to deal with it either, the most frightening moment been one of those rare moments of lucidity when everything seems to have fallen back into places again. I remember when those sporadic moments happened the smile on her face and the joy of having recovered momentarily while knowing this was short lived, just a few seconds of respite before her memories were taken away from her again. She was not to be there the following summer and for some obscure reasons I cannot recall I did not attend her funeral.
The following March though, during Easter Break I went to check up on my grandfather in order to offer some company and comfort. While there I took the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s grave in a beautiful cemetery surrounded by old trees and an ancient church in one of those picturesque villages of the Calvados area, so pretty indeed that it would easily qualified for the best postcard of the year.
My first time there but I found the grave pretty easily as it was gently sitting near the bank of a narrow stream. I stayed there for what seemed to me a very long time on this spring day and just when I was about to come back towards the exit my eyes got attracted by a small white grave. Curiosity got the best of me and I directed myself towards the miniature tombstone. I am actually not sure how long it took me to process that the family name on the grave was mine but I got very confused with the flow of information that somewhat got thrown at me at the speed of light.
I had a really bad night that night and when I had my mum on the phone the following morning she was quite dumbfounded by the very direct question I had for her ‘’ it may sound crazy but did I have a sister?’’. There was a heavy silence on the other end of the line partly because my mother could not believe that I had forgotten, in fact it had become such a family taboo with time nobody understood this had been suppressed from my memory for ten years or so, how can you blank out completely on something like this?
I was told I had turned just five when you came into my life and I was nearly six when you left. I was genuinely proud as a peacock to be a big brother apparently and was preparing for the role very seriously. I think I was planning to go to school with you and share my toys, watched films and defend you against dodgy boyfriends when you would be older. I was planning to grow up and fight with you like only brothers and sisters do, I was planning … actually I don’t know what I was planning I don’t remember as I never really got to do it. The teddy I gave you went onto too many trips to hospital until one day the teddy came back on his own….
I feel like somebody has stolen a part of my memory, I cannot verbalize it very well it but I kind of make sense now of the gap and burden I had to carry all those years, always unease when people asked me If I was an only child. It is very disturbing to think I had parked such an event for so long, it is scary to think it was buried so deep that I was not even remotely conscious of it, oh boy how destabilizing it is when it comes back, it comes back first with a big bang and for better words it is like an earthquake with a huge deflagration of feelings and then it decreases gradually but it does not stop there, it‘s followed by smaller tremors and other flashbacks.
You end up finding and assembling pieces of a massive black hole jigsaw. For that you need clues, some relatives helped me to understand that due to the very nature of our nomadic existence at the time the decision to let her rest near my maternal family made sense, I have also accepted I will probably not find all of the clues either for example I have no photo. There is obviously a void and unexpectedly the more I progress in life the bigger it gets.
To this day I can hardly speak about it without a huge flow of contradicting emotions rushing to my eyes. To the thieves and other memory kidnappers that stored these precious days in a memory cache away from me I would like to say I will never forget there has been
A HOLD UP IN MY MEMORY BANK
To all sisters in general and S. Derrien in particular
UK Alzheimer Society
My Grand Mother’s stuffed tomatoes
Unknown despite best efforts to identify
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