When the Memories are Gone
255 minutes – That’s how long it took to auction off a lifetime of memories.
You’ll still have the memories, they say.
They'll tell you objects only represent the memory, that the memory will still be with you long after the object is gone.
But what happens when the memories are gone?
My mother no longer recognizes me as her son. I’m not sure who she thinks I am. Some undistinguishable family member.
She asks if I’ve seen mom and dad. Her mom and dad. They’ve both been gone for a good 40 years now.
I used to remind her of that. Now I just say I’ve been busy. Last week she told me she seems them every Tuesday.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I knew it was coming. I saw the dementia beginning several years ago. I was back home at my folks’ place for a weekend and my mother and I were having a simple conversation. I told her I liked something and ten minutes later she asked me why I didn’t like it.
It was the lightbulb moment. Similar incidents occurred again that weekend and I knew we were on the path.
It’s actually taken much longer than I thought it would.
A year ago last August she collapsed at their home. The neighbors came to help. My father is in no shape himself to fully comprehend or physically deal with such a situation.
An ambulance took her to the hospital. She stayed a week and then transferred to the care facility’s memory unit where she remains today.
She was severely dehydrated. Piecing things together from what my father was saying, which is often like a detective trying to pull clues together from a crime scene, she’d just finished taking a shower and collapsed.
I believe now she’d simply forgotten to eat, and possibly even drink water. Her temperature rose in the hot shower and her body was too dehydrated to respond.
Three months later, around Thanksgiving, my father was hurrying to answer the phone. He was being scammed but wouldn’t believe those of us trying to convince him. He didn’t want to miss the phone call from the people arranging for him to get his lottery winnings.
He fell on the way, fracturing his hip. Unable to get up he laid on the floor for several hours before finally crawling to where he could reach a tape measure, extended it and knocked the phone off the counter to call for help.
I was at the hospital with him on my birthday in early December when I received a call from the care facility that my mother had fallen and hit her head on her chest of drawers.
As fate would have it, the emergency room was much busier than normal that evening. I spent several hours with her. Extremely confused and exhausted, she couldn’t understand what happened. She was hurt but didn’t know how it had happened and kept thinking she had done something wrong.
Sometime after midnight I drove her back to the care facility, with eight new stitches along the side of her head, near her left eye.
My father stayed in the hospital for about a week and then also transferred to the care facility. We are extremely fortunate there was space in the same facility as my mother. With the crowding in such places, especially in a small town of just 10,000 people, it’s a bit of a first-come, first-served, situation and you often don’t have a choice of which facility you will be in.
He is not to the point where he needs to be in the memory unit so his room is just down the hall.
On a dementia scale of 1 to 10, he’s in the 4 to 5 area. He definitely knows who I am and functions well with the help of the facility’s staff.
His memory is quickly fading and his conversations often focus on little more than how many cookies he has on hand for his daily treat, or making sure he has enough hair spray and deodorant on hand.
In January I began the process of going through their home, sorting papers, scrapbooks, objects, memories.
They have little money so I’ve also been knee deep in cashing in insurance policies, pre-planning their funerals and working through the seemingly constant stream of documents and phone calls needed to place them on Medicaid.
I’ve spent much of the time between my personal travels around the country driving the 135 miles, 270-mile round trip, back and forth to my parent’s house, loading up my vehicle with the things I either have to keep or have chosen to keep, memories, and bringing them back to my place.
I swore I wouldn’t keep a lot of things, and really think I’ve done a decent job of that, but have still managed to fill up half of a large shed in my backyard, not to mention the pieces now crammed into nooks and crannies throughout the house.
A good six months went by as I sorted through things at their three-bedroom house with a four-car garage.
The auction was last Saturday. It started at 10 a.m. and finished up at 2:15 p.m.
It’s difficult to describe how it felt. I really am ok with selling the things. I’m not all that sentimental when it comes to “stuff”.
Even so, these weren’t objects, they weren’t just stuff.
They were memories.
The loom my grandfather made stacks of rugs on after he’d retired and my grandmother was gone.
My father’s metal lunchbox he’d painted gold and took to work with him every day at the foundry when I was growing up.
My mother’s countless number of cookbooks. It seemed every time I opened a kitchen door or drawer I found more of those cookbooks.
Basset hound statuettes and wall hangings. We were big basset hound fans. I had my first one, Samantha, when I was in junior high.
Boxes and boxes of Christmas lights, stacks of wooden reindeer and Santa Clauses, yard ornaments.
An entire lifetime of memories, sold to strangers with no idea what memory they were buying, in 255 minutes.
My mother forgot where their home was or what it even looked like as soon as she entered the care facility. Once she no longer living there she couldn’t remember it.
She knew who I was for quite some time but that light went out in July.
I believe my father will know me for at least another year and maybe even longer, but there’s no real way to predict.
I have a buyer for the house and hope to close in the next two or three weeks and then it will all be done, the objects will be gone.
What happens when the memories are gone as well?
Personal note: Thanks to my aunt, uncle and three close friends who made the long drive to the auction. I appreciate your support.
And, in spite of me not being particularly sentimental about stuff, without going into the details there was one piece that was hard for me to let go. I just don't have a place for it in my place.
Happily, that big Santa is going to a great home. My best man from my wedding and his wife bought it.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.