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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

In the house of memory

My big brother has Alzheimers. I will go to visit him next week and be part of his Alzheimers Walk team. He is an honoree and has been very active with the Alzheimer Society ever since his diagnosis. I am very proud of him.

He was diagnosed just a few years ago, before he was 70, before I was 60. The first time I saw him after the testing and the doctor’s appointments I asked him to tell me the difference between forgetting, those lapses of memory every one I know seems to deal with a few times an hour, and Alzheimers. He said, “You may forget what time it is, or where you put your watch, the difference is I can’t remember what the second hand on the clock is for.”

That clarifying response has stayed with me. It changes how I think about memory, and I think about memory a lot . What we remember, how we remember it, what makes us recall a conversation, a dish, a vista.  The way a scent brings back an entire afternoon, the scent of new mown grass, the glimpse of sky through branches, a song on the old transistor radio, a shadow of a butterfly.What we think we don’t remember, until something jars a memory lose and it comes to inhabit us.

And then I think about my brother’s sense of remembering. Not so much long ago memories but his sense of his present. It seems Alzheimers deconstructs ones understanding of the world. As if the rooms in your house moved from one side to the other, furniture shifting places, windows appearing and disappearing, hallways lengthening or curving. How can you be sure what room is next to the other, if the back door opens onto the yard or directly into traffic?

I think I will bring old family photos with me so we can visit together in the old memories that are still fixed in place, an architecture that hasn’t as yet come apart.

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