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What to Write? Capture Your Memories While You Can

Whenever my husband would balk about taking time to shoot photos of the kids in their many activities and milestones, I reminded him that we were creating memories. Those wonderful day-to-day activities that we take for granted and that seem that they will last forever, won’t. Someday photographs, letters, your book, a blog or a journal may be the only remaining witnesses of your life. Your activities and relationships that are so present, so tangible right now will fade from memory or die with you if you don’t capture them now.

Many years ago I had the unhappy experience of putting my mother in a nursing home shortly after she was diagnosed with dementia. The doctors never called it Alzheimer’s, but the damage was just as upsetting. She was about 88 and had been in good health all her life.  She never wore glasses, had no physical ailments, and had a memorable sense of humor and joy for life.

She had played the piano and organ since her adolescence, playing for churches and accompanying many singers all of her life. She had a wealth of songs in her head from gospel to popular, from blues to classics. Even though she read music, she also had that rare ability to “play by ear,” meaning you could start singing a song and she would find the key you were in, pick it up and give you a full piano accompaniment.

At the nursing home she was able to go the recreation room where she could play the piano whenever she wanted. One day when I was visiting her I convinced her to go to the piano to play Happy Birthday since it was my birthday. I knew she didn’t remember that, but I thought playing the piano would give her some comfort. But it didn’t. When she couldn’t remember the whole song she banged on the keys in frustration. I urged her to just play something else. She began playing “Danny Boy,” and when she couldn’t finish that went to “The Canadian Sunrise,” songs I had been hearing her play for my entire life.

When I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer, I dashed out of the room. I didn’t want  her to see me cry. Once in my car, I sat on the parking lot and burst into tears, just as I did every time after visiting her.

When she died at age 92 I was heartbroken, but also relieved.  I never knew what to say or what to do with the stranger her vanishing memory had left behind. Later when I went through her papers and notes, I spotted an appointment book that she had used as a journal and a to-do list. She had posted various reminders or checkpoints to herself throughout like “It’s 3:00 pm.” which makes me think that she knew her memory was slipping away and afraid to disclose it to anyone. She was desperately trying to cling to it.

Since then, I’ve had the unsettling experience of calling to speak to friends who had slipped into Alzheimer’s only to be told by their caretakers that the patient didn’t know anyone by my name, and therefore didn’t want to speak to me.  Does that make sense? Why would the caretaker even ask an Alzheimer patient if they remembered a given name? I had to check on their conditions through relatives who still remembered me.

With these things in mind I urge everyone to record your memories in writing, photographs and telling your kids and grandkids stories of your upbringing. When they are young these stories may not be that exciting to them, but they will cherish them in years to come.

In addition, I also urge us all to live life to its fullest, follow our dreams and not wait another minute to start pursuing whatever bodacious thing we want . We may not all succumb to dementia or Alzheimer’s , but we will all leave this Earth. How sad it would be to die with our rich stories and memories inside of us.

No matter what type of writing you do, you can record memories within it in many ways. If you write nonfiction, you can illustrate your points by sharing personal experiences or anecdotes. If you take loads of pictures, you can use those to illustrate your blog, populate Pinterest or create greeting cards.

Even serious business writing can be enriched by using your memories as metaphors. Read this blog post by Jon Morrow, blogger extraordinaire to see how he used a very personal story to stress the main point of his blog post.

If you want to write your memoir and want guidance, join  memoir writers and teachers in groups such as the National Association of Memoir Writers founded and headed by Dr. Linda Joy Myers. They offer loads of information, guidance and resources from active writers, editors and more in this genre. Check out their free monthly roundtable call and other events.

Any means of capturing your memories will work. Just get started now.

How are you capturing your memories?