Giving memories away

Old men forget.
Yet all shall be forgot
But he’ll remember
with advantages
what feats he did this day.

(Henry V, Act IV, scene 3)

April 1st is my dad’s birthday (he turned 96 today).  When we were kids, we had lots of fun with the April Fool’s aspect.  My youngest brother, who had a more easygoing relationship with Dad than any of the older kids, used to pull elaborate pranks.  He once slit the glue from the bottom of a paper lunch bag, knowing that in his ready-for-work morning routine, Dad would take that bag and casually toss in his deviled-ham-on-homemade bread sandwich.

Dad’s world has gotten much smaller in the past two years.  His hearing has deteriorated, his vision is much poorer, and his memory–well, it fades here, and it’s missing over there, and in this other place it stops and dwells for a while.

He doesn’t have dementia, but I thought about him this weekend as I heard a radio program on Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being.  I learned of a writing workshop for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Psychologist Alan Dienstag was urged by novelist Don DeLillo to encourage such people to write their stories while they could.

Writing, DeLillo said, is a form of memory.  Through writing, people in the workshop changed how they saw what was left of their conscious lives.  Instead of losing their memories, they were giving them away.

My dad’s always been a great teller of stories.  They’ve tapered off, but one or two still emerge, pieces of his life that he gives freely.

Those of us who work in areas of training, learning, and communications have tools of vastly more power and reach than the kitchen tables of Nova Scotia and Detroit, Calgary and Boston, where Dad talked while downing vats of tea.  But that power’s not infinite.

I’m glad that, even without realizing it, Dad’s given away so many of his memories, and I’m sorry not to have kept more of them than I have.