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There is no memory of love

teacup

Soo and I met during our first year in college. We were dorm neighbors in that time most memorable: the first months away from home. I was barely 18, toggling between life stages, both kid and adult. My dorm room attested to this: on one wall, I pinned a koala poster; next to that, a print advertising an art show.

Soo was sweet and kind. She laughed well and often.  I admired her artistic talents, her effortless abilities with diverse media. A gifted potter, she made me a tea cup.

As often happens, time passed and we lost touch. When we reconnected, I was happy to see her side by side with Scott. His smile, frozen in a photo, matched Soo’s. The two were devoted parents to their two babies, a big sister and little brother.

I sent my daughter to spend a morning at Soo’s house early last summer, my not-quite-teenager needing some company for a few hours during her travels. My daughter taught the children a game she made up not long before: deciding if a described person was “real or fake”. Soo’s children jumped right in. Soo texted me a photo of her six year old’s handwritten scrawl: REAL OR FAKE?

Just over a month after that, Soo’s husband died suddenly.

An earlier traumatic brain injury had left him vulnerable to seizures, and one struck while Scott was swimming on a family vacation.

As another summer approaches, Soo and Scott would have celebrated sixteen years of marriage. Instead it has been almost a year now of soul-work of the most acute sort, the unquantifiable and unquenchable wrench of grief. Of loss.

Of the memory of love. Except that there is no memory of love. It knows no past tense. Their love was, and it is.

My parents, now 83 and 73 years old, both have dementia. Their common disability means that their interactions with each other are now addled by their confusion. Neither could report the season, much less the day. On a recent visit to their apartment where they live under my brother’s care, they both spent the entire time standing, shifting, pacing, as they together tried to decide when to leave for “home”. My father’s use of his same long-ago phrasing in his same long-ago inflection was striking. “I want you to be free to be who you are,” he told my mom, and then he shuffled, his steps slowed by the fact that he had removed his own shoelace entirely — and wrapped the lace around the locked front gate outside. I have been told that dementia patients are often looking for something — they just don’t know what. My father lamented, as he readied for this trip “home,” that he didn’t have his keys. My mother stared with little purpose or direction, just a sort of little-animal fright. “You’re the world to me,” he later told her, and she looked away, still searching.

This could be the sad, even pitiful exchange of two people who have lost themselves, two diseased individuals only lightly reminiscent of the thoughtful, well-read, well-liked people they once were. Or this could be all the truth that there ever needed to be in all the world.

In the earlier stages of her brain disease, my mother was at first like a trapped bird, wings flailing, pecking at the snare. Now she is past the battle, that storm quieted. This has all evolved with my father at her side, he too unable to reflect upon their situation, too distant to remember a detail of anything, too far into the pathology to generate my name. Yet he still knows that he is the love of her life, and she of his. He has forgotten what a remote control is for, but he knows that she is his center.

So while I might weep over the cruelty of a particularly trying disease, or steel myself against the declines that only continue, I might also be grateful that there is no memory of love. There is only love. And so for Soo as this most bittersweet of anniversaries passes, there is love. And in my parents’ side-by-side trials, their dual journeys most vulnerable, there is yet love. One can lose one’s understanding, one’s perspective on place and time, one’s stride or even one’s very life, but there is, assuredly, still love.

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4 thoughts on “There is no memory of love

  1. Jeanne Birnkrant says:

    Wow Rachel,

    Truly moving and beautiful writing. LOVE it! Love you,

    love is all there is. [?]

    Jeanne

  2. gloria says:

    Beautiful and tender… And so it seems to hold true: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)
    .

  3. My apologies as this is long but what you wrote really moved me. My Stepmom, who my Dad married after my Mom died when I was quite young, had Alzheimers and he cared for her in his home for several years, refusing help. This was something I wrote after she passed and I hope it offers some comfort – LB Johnson, author, daughter, mother.

    “When I next get out to my Dad’s, I’ll once again see that photo of them on that first date, the feelings there so sudden and so very unexpected, incapable of being formed into sound. I’ll look at another photo, the last one we have of her where she was completely with us, a laughing woman on my deck in the Indiana summer, her movements that of a bird, free and spirited. There is no fear in her, in that memory, even as the picture lays silent. But there is hope.

    Those last days with her were difficult, but they taught me a lot. Not just visible confirmation of what my Dad was truly made of, but that words aren’t necessary to define what you believe, that nestled in the strong crook of an arm of the one who understands you without words, you know exactly who you are. Even when she didn’t know who I was, she taught me about not being limited by fear, but going forward with hope, even if the future is not articulated.

    Home and love, love and desire, can be what propels us silently onward. Hope and love, love and desire, can also be merely sounds, that people who have never hoped or loved or desired have for what they never possessed, and will not until such time as they forget the words.”

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