My memory isn’t what it used to be and it has gravely worried me every day until recently. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I could easily remember what had happened 15 years earlier and names and faces, but now? I can’t remember a whole lot from the past year, let alone the last 66 years. One thing I do recall is when I was 50, I fretted that I couldn’t remember my high school graduation. Where was it held? Who was my date? I can vaguely remember now but I thought something that important would be burned into my mind. Obviously not!
A few years ago I went to a talk about memory. The speaker told the audience about how memories are created and how we forget some things and how we forget others. Apparently your brain remembers more easily if the information is interesting, dangerous or important and they described the brain as a type of CD stacker that goes through its memory bank to find answers. This is why sometimes we can wake up in the middle of the night and be like “A-ha!”…our brain was still looking for the answer to the question we asked. And also, the more you think about something, the more likely it is to stick around in your memory. It strengthens the synapses that connect to the memory each time your mind is draw back to that memory. This was incredibly interesting to me but, despite knowing this about memory, in the last few years since I have worried that all my favourite memories would fade away and soon I’d be unable to think readily about the past. What would I tell my grandchildren? I was so sad that cherished moments were nothing more than a stitch in time.
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At times I have panicked that I’m losing my life. I love having a laugh with my girlfriends about the past but it gets harder every time…I can’t think of any stories we haven’t talked about. How sometimes I had wished I had a time machine or even a very descriptive diary to help me.
My friend reminded me that I hadn’t lost my life and that not remembering fine details was a part of life – she was forgetting as well. But she asked “I always remember how I felt, don’t you?”.”You might not remember what was said or what happened, but you always remember how you feel”. I think that could be the key to why, at 68, I remember those vital pieces of information and events…they made me feel something.
In the following week, I saw someone familiar in the street and had a wave of emotion rush over me. I suddenly realised that I knew them and it was like I was 20 again. I had to speak to him and we quickly gathered that we were neighbours as children. Dennis had been lived next door to me and though I cannot remember what we did, I can see us together in my mind and that’s so valuable to me that I get a bit teary thinking about it now.
So as I get older, I’ve realised that memory is something that will fade but our feelings will not. Of course, we should be worried if we are constantly everyday forgetting things but I’ve reminded myself to keep looking to the future and just be happy in the present. Oh, and to get a diary!