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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Misty watercolored memories.

A week after giving my sister Halley plants and seeds for her garden, it was discovered that I had neglected to giver her adequate planting instructions, resulting in the seeds being sown "4 below the surface of the soil; about 3" too deep. We went to work carefully digging up the seeds, in order to replant them at the appropriate depth, with the hope that they would live, thrive, and multiply in the form of delicious and healthy crook neck squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. It was a joyous moment each time we found a seed, and even more so when we discovered one which had germinated, manifesting signs of life and the hope of the harvest ahead.

Memories are sometimes like those seeds. As humans, we typically enjoy reminiscing, particularly with a loved one, about the past, reliving the good times, commiserating and reflecting on the bad. Once in a while a memory, long lain dormant, will be brought to the surface, bursting into the light of our thoughts, exploding with that spark of joy, like when you find a $20 bill in the pocket of the jacket you haven't worn since last winter, or finally going through the box at the back of the closet labeled "Misc. Junk" from when you moved X years ago, and finding that certain important something that you had completely forgotten about. Sometimes those memories will spark a chain reaction, self-propagating into more and more forgotten memories to reflect upon and enjoy, accompanied with the "oh my gosh, I had completely forgotten about when so-and-so did such-and-such!"

Now, stop reading, and think for a moment about what it would be like, what it would really be like, not to have those memories? Are you reflecting? Now you may continue.

I recently made a startling and frankly traumatic discovery, resulting in the time of this post. See that? Somehow, in focusing on trying to fix the issues that Todd has had since the stroke, the ones that affect his day to day living here and now, I missed the fact that Todd's garden of memories has been laid fallow; nuked with the industrial strength herbicide of brain injury. I don't feel like horrifying is too strong a word to describe it.

I first began to realize it when we recently discussed his class work. I was curious to know how he felt about his ability to learn since the stroke; what difference he felt in relearning old concepts versus learning things that were completely new to him. I was somewhat startled when he said that they were both equally difficult, and both more difficult than before.

It was then that I began to understand just how empty his memory is. I supposed I had had clues before now, little things here and there, more a source for light-hearted teasing than something to be concerned about. Or so I thought. Like needing assistance coming up with Oliver's age (they do grow up so fast, don't they?) or how lone we've been married (it seems like it's been forever! ) or repeatedly telling him about what happened while he was in the hospital, or what it was like just after he came home. (He'd had a traumatic brain injury and slept for a month straight, who would remember?) But it is becoming clear that it's so much more than that. He doesn't remember important times in his life, like graduating (all three times) or our lives together, like the day Oliver was born. Being sealed as a family, or being married.

He doesn't remember meeting me.

There are snippets here and there; fractions of memories associated with the whole, but not much on their own. A red couch. A familiar name. A car. Pictures can trigger pieces of memory, jog recollection here and there, but still in bits and pieces. Then again, they also remind him (and me) how very much he has lost.

We all look with wonder and joy at "Todd 2.0", as his brother Brett has coined it, and see how he has changed so dramatically, and in many ways, for the better. But it isn't any wonder: he has also lost memories of the negative or painful things that shaped that former person, and shaped our relationship. Like my losing our long desired baby to miscarriage on Christmas Eve, the year we lived with his parents ("That must have been a bad Christmas... Wait, we lived with my parents?") Our failed IVF cycle ("What is IVF?") His grandpa's funeral. The bad experience of his mission. His parent's divorce.

While this is an opportunity for Todd to essentially start his life over, as the person he wants to be, and we both think of that as a good thing, it does raise more questions. Will it come back? Can it come back? How much? When? Will he remember experiences he is having and information he is learning now, down the road?

It is necessary to experience pain and sorrow to appreciate the happiness and joy. And sometimes the pain is so unbearable that we wish we could just forget it. But if it came at the cost of forgetting everything would you make that deal?


Don Fallick said...

I've had some experience with traumatic brain injury. (A seizure is a traumatic brain injury that kills brain cells and usually results in some amnesia). Sometimes, the memories do come back. Sometimes, not for a long time. Sometimes never. Sometimes, the memories lost have something to do with the time of the trauma, sometimes not. Sometimes, the trauma creates a "dead spot" in the brain that cannot hold a memory, then, later the brain tries to store a memory in the dead spot, and it disappears. I can only imagine what a triple stroke must be like.

Mandie said...

I am bawling my eyes out, for the sad and the triumph. You and Todd are inspiring. I am so sad for him to not remember those important memories but I agree, who would I be without the small changes that have been slowly hammered into the core of my being? I don't think that is a choice I even have the comprehension to understand.