When there is a rock in our path, we can stumble over it or use it as a stepping stone.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Memory and Identity

On Monday, August 29th, Cellar Guy wrote a post titled "Forgotten Bread."   I was rather foggy when I read it but I got enough out of it to know there was the seed of a post for my blog in it, so I made a note to go back and reread it on a day when my head was a bit clearer.

Cellar Guy's post talks about how what happens to us makes us who we are and how what we end up remembering of past events shows us what is most important.    I wondered how that pertains to those of us with dementia though who get to the point like me where we cannot remember our own address and phone number or like  Rev. Katie's mother in Moving in With Dementia where we lose our ability to sign our name or eventually (as happens to everyone in later stages of dementia) we no longer recognize our loved ones.

My initial reaction today when rereading Cellar Guy's post was how does losing everything from our phone number and address to ability to sign our name to knowing  who our loved ones are show us what is most important now and then I remembered reading something Ram Dass wrote when talking about people living with dementia - that we really need very little of our past to do what matters most "Be Here Now."    I can see the truth and the beauty in that.

Thank you, Cellar Guy, for helping jog a memory that put things in perspective for me.


Cellarguy said...

When my grandfather died of Alzheimer's I gave a eulogy where in my grief I mused on memory and identity. Basically I was wondering: if everything we do today won't be remembered tomorrow, how do we still find meaning in our lives? If everything we did yesterday is no longer a part of our consciousness, what can endure? Due to the loss that he experienced, and the loss I so keenly felt, I was questioning the existence of Soul.

The minister replied to my eulogy off-the-cuff, retelling the familiar metaphor of how holograms contain all the original information, even if broken. Then he related this to the many objects that my grandfather, a tinsmith, had made, and how something of him was there in each one. Both tropes suggested that something does indeed endure despite our confusing it with what must inevitably fall away in time.

Love endures. I think that this makes it the most precious thing. But it is most difficult to attend to, requiring always the present tense. Confusing it with desire binds us to objects of desire, and their limited duration, as the Buddha said.

Stumblinn said...

I agree that love is what matters most. I have read many reports from "the other side of the veil" over the past quarter century and the one common theme, no matter how the information was transmitted is that the only thing that matters after death is how much did you love others and do your part to leave the world a better place than you found it - what religion you were, what race, what nationality, what gender, what sexual orientation does not matter at all. All of those things are completely meaningless after death other than how did we use whichever ones we had while on earth to do the best we could to help others.

The only thing that survives the death of our physical bodies is our love for others and their love for us.

Your very valid point (Confusing it with desire binds us to objects of desire, and their limited duration, as the Buddha said.) is a very important one to remember as that is a very easy trap to fall into.