Family

the gaps in my memory

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It is a three day weekend.  There are piles of paperwork on the floor next to my office chair that await: requests for 2014 tax documentation, audit folders for PTA and stacks of paperwork to sign for field trips, science projects and school conferences.   The work folders remain in my book bag.

I continue to fill in the gaps in the 1,000 piece puzzle and, to both my family and I’s surprise, I cannot stay away from it.  The daylight filters through my living room curtains and illuminates my coffee table as countless hours are lost patiently sifting through the pieces.

allegory.  noun.  “a symbolic representation.” Def. 2. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

The puzzle is the allegory of my life.

The jigsaw makes me sit in the present moment.  With the five of us within my four walls I can enjoy these hours unencumbered.  I don’t need to rush to bring kids here, there and everywhere.  I do not worry about my to-do lists, schedules and due dates.  I am here.

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There is a gap that continues to bother me and each day I actively search for the colors that will fill it in.  I have been unsuccessful in locating these pieces.  I know eventually, I’ll fill in the gaps.

It’ll work itself out.

Recently I had asked the members in our bookclub to share a book that had special meaning to them; a book that our group of ten had not read.  Some chose classics like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett or Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice.  Others chose contemporary books that renewed their love of reading.   I have read some amazing books over the years.  But the one that remains in my mind, one that I have not shared, is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice.

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I had read this novel some time ago and had forgotten it was going to become a movie.  I was surprised by the text from  a girlfriend, informing me of its limited release date on Friday, January 16th.  I was shocked when I watched my early morning show and discovered one of my favorite actresses, Julianne Moore, won the Golden Globe and received an Oscar nod for this movie. I hadn’t even known she was starring in it.   How can a movie that hasn’t been released have so much hoopla?

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And as all things do, the thoughts from my subconscious circled in my mind.  In my dreams.  It brought me to the place that I rarely go to…the gaping hole in my life that stays hidden away.

Alzheimer’s Disease.

With the release of this movie my past comes rearing back.  It is my biggest fear; one that my hubs shares with me.  Will I lose my memories, my mind like my own mother did?  Am I genetically predisposed?

It is one of the reasons I painstakingly document my family with photos.  I read books for enjoyment but also know that reading stimulates the mind.  Last year I chose to re-subscribe to my Sunday paper; reading it from cover-to-cover.  Each December I self-test myself  when I place my hands on the ivories; attempting to play Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from memory without any practice.   The factors that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s include: reading, mind stimulating games (like Sequence or puzzles), music, education level, social interactions and healthy lifestyle choices.

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I delve into all things mental; the neurogerontologist within  stimulating neuronal networks to keep the synapses current.   The years in the lab return; the slides of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques.   Last year my mind was scattered; the multi-tasker pulled in many different directions.  Mediocre at everything; good at nothing.  I literally lost my mind.  When I began to lose my train of thought or began a task and forgot mid-stride; I was on full alert.

Life had its own way of working itself out and I took a break.  I cleared my schedules.  I worked hard to discover the motives for doing the things that I did.  I began to sit quietly and listen to my intuition.  It was hard to hear it amongst the chaos and noise I had lived in.

I bought books on organizing my mind.  I retook the multiple intelligences test to determine my modality of learning. Unknowingly, I bought the jigsaw puzzle.  I searched for my Still Alice book and realized I did not own a hard copy.  It remained buried deep in my electronic Kindle files.  I chose to step outside of my box to volunteer as a bookkeeper; to learn new versions of QuickBooks.  I do not have a financial background but push myself to expand my horizons.  I seek to master basic accounting principles which will also be useful at work.  I must interact within a large organization and I mentally train my mind to learn names and meet new people.

I am grateful the hubs supports these endeavors.  He understands the motivation behind them.

I mentally sort through the pieces, years ago, when I watched my mother live with impaired memory loss.   Ironically I had given seminars on dementia as a gerontologist.  I volunteered at my local Alzheimer’s Association in conjunction with my paid job in a non-profit that advocated for the elderly.   My co-workers gave weekly support groups to caregivers and I listened intently as they shared the ups and downs.  Never would we have guessed that my own mother would be diagnosed with it.  That I, the one educated and knowledgeable in this specific field of study, would revert to the caregiver’s denial and blinding anger.  And the guilt.  Lots of guilt.

The memories flood back.  My husband’s shock when he returned from deployment as I told him I placed my mother in a locked board and care facility.  The phone calls  from the facility of her escape.  She had been found in a 7-Eleven convenience store several miles away.  The identification bracelet had not been noticed by law enforcement.

Memory walk 2002 cropThese gaps lay open like the puzzle before me.  I search for the pieces, finally choosing to remember and acknowledge them.  I had compartmentalized this period in my life as I raised my infant and almost two- year old son.  Although I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Association and had access to a physician, whose book is still prominent in this field; I had not asked for help.  I walked four miles in our local Memory Walk, with my sons,  and raised over a thousand dollars.  I brought people to tears as I taught law enforcement and social services about the symptoms of dementia and the importance of identity bracelets  But never did I acknowledge these things for myself.

I had been too overwhelmed.

I find the few pictures taken during that time; the purple album (whose proceeds partially went to the national Alzheimer’s chapter) purchased years ago and never started.  I coordinate with girlfriends to watch Still Alice onscreen when it is released to the general public in February.   I allow the memories to flood my mind; feeling the emotions as if it were yesterday.  And I found the picture, playfully taken, as my mother held the gorilla.  It was to be sent to the hubs in a memory book of the things he missed while on his six month deployment.  His aviator call sign was monkey boy and the gorilla was meant to make him laugh on the other side of the world.  It is one of the last memories of my mother when she was cognizant.

And with that I can finally pen the thoughts to the high resolution screen, in black and white, in acknowledgment.  I fill in the memory gaps.

monkey lola

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