Saturday, April 19, 2008


There's an old country song that goes something like, I've forgotten more about him than you'll ever know. At my age, forgetting (the past) and forgetfulness (in the present) are problems. The memory tapes are full, and to my knowledge there's no way to jettison the old stuff to make room for the new, and in order to even keep the past, you do need to occasionally revisit it. This morning I was reading something dated November 17. "That's Patrick's birthday," popped into my mind. Then I began to doubt. No, it was November 14; or was it the 18th? Patrick died 44 years ago, but he was my baby--we had such a brief time together, and you'd think I'd never forget his birth date, but apparently I have. It wouldn't be hard to look it up, but messy files isn't my topic today; forgetting is.

The past is forgotten primarily by the passage of time, but happy times also start to replace the unhappy memories like a difficult pregnancy and loss of a child in order to build new memories. Both my adult children have November birthdays so I think Patrick's date would come and go and eventually, I paid no attention to it. Alcohol also destroys the memory, as does dementia--those aren't my problem.

Time doesn't always do it if you refurbish and polish the memory like prayer beads. Years ago we "fixed up" a widower we knew with a delightful, handsome divorcee whom I knew through work. I think she was in her late 50s or early 60s, and he was about 70. Both had been single many years and had grown children--I think his wife had died of cancer about 25 years earlier. During dinner I began to spot the problem--he wouldn't stop talking about his deceased wife. It was embarrassing. I talked to my co-worker the next day and she said it continued even when he took her home and she invited him in. He had allowed neither time nor happy memories to chip away at the painful memories of his wife's death. I also considered the possibility that he used this to assure he'd never need to follow up on a social contact!

Some of the happiest second and third marriages I've known are cases where the two bereaved spouses were friends before their loss--each knew the others joys, sorrows, illnesses, children--they had shared memories. I also know a few where this didn't work out at all--resulting in a quick divorce or annulment. Memories are wonderful props for living, but sometimes you need a brick or two replaced, or some new mortar, or maybe a whole foundation.

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