I dedicate approximately one third of my blog space to memories, because I have almost seven decades of living to share. My husband and I love looking back over our fifty-five years of scrapbooks. Our family and friends, who are also featured in these books, seem to enjoy browsing through the pages too. As important as detailed memories are, I have learned, through caring for family members with dementia, that it isn’t always the details that matter the most. Sometimes, remembering is simply a warm, familiar feeling made up of years of accumulated moments.
My mother-in-law has become a major part of my life; I met her fifty-five years ago. I have absorbed her stories; they are part of me. She has lived with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade, and she listens, enthusiastically, when I tell her about her life. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she would ask me for details about a specific event. Now, she just marvels at the woman she used to be. If I tell her how beautifully she used to set a table, she seems pleased to know that she took the time. More than anyone, she loves to sit down, quietly, with a pile of our scrapbooks.
As my mother-in-law’s ability to remember details has declined, she has gained another perception. She soaks up new experiences, and remembers old ones, on a more subliminal level. Her room is full of photos. She often giggles at a photo taken during her courtship with her late husband; they were obviously in love. One day, she asked me if that man was her boyfriend. I told her she married that good-looking fellow, back in 1941. She used to describe him in great detail, but more recently, she smiles and remarks that he was always kind and considerate. At these times, I can see in her expression that she remembers his essence. I knew him, and he was exactly as she remembers. She hasn’t forgotten him. She has simply found a new way to remember him. He is a feeling.This year, while putting up my Christmas decorations, I took particular notice of my familiar Christmas feeling. I call it the Christmas tickle. It originates somewhere in my belly and bubbles right up to my smile. I don’t remember exactly when it started, but I know it began when I was a child. I know it is a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and hope, seasoned with memories, and triggered by lights, special foods, seasonal music, and gift giving. The details of all those Christmases have faded, somewhat, but the Christmas feeling has grown stronger than ever. I think it’s as close as I can come to understanding the way my mother-in-law now remembers. The Christmas feeling comes with no expectations or details. It’s just an essence. Not everyone has great Christmas memories, and dealing with my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s hasn’t always been easy. She resisted help at every stage. Convincing her to move into an assisted living place, and helping her pick a walker, provided me with difficult memories. She became quite negative for a time. However, we kept visiting, taking her out, and telling her about her life. She remains proud, and private, as she approaches her 98th birthday. She seems, at last, rather content. She is free to live in the moment.I am encouraged by the knowledge that for my mother-in-law, it was the bad memories that faded first. The good memories, it seems, have taken on a warm fuzzy essence. This is an unexpected gift, at any time of year, but at Christmas it seems particularly encouraging.
Here's to the Christmas tickle and to savouring the feeling.
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