Cherish your unexpected memories of loved ones

With Mother’s Day approaching and Father’s Day a month away, I am repeating a post from two years ago. Memories of loved ones have a way of popping up when you least expect them. Tissues may be needed.

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories. Or, it could be prompted by a simple question about “do you remember….?” I grieved my favorite aunt’s death in a restaurant about two years after she died when my wife asked me one of those simple questions. Remember them well.

Five easy memory tricks

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

Two favorite memories

Many moons ago, my wife and I drove to New York City with her parents. Our mission was to visit her sister’s family on Governor’s Island, since, her brother-in-law was in the Coast Guard stationed there. The trip was eventful and a lot of fun, but two memories linger on as favorites of mine.

The first memory is of a kids play area which overlooked Manhattan. We would sit on benches as our niece and nephew played in a huge sandbox with the skyline across the river. In the early evening after dinner, it offered such a relaxing view and allowed easy conversation. I should note the Coast Guard moved off the island and those two kids are now married, one with two of her own, and the other expecting a first.

The second memory was on the ride home. While we split the ride into two pieces on the way there, we decided to drive the fourteen hours home in one day. But, that set the stage for the memory which was my wife’s parents singing old songs in the backseat after sunset.

My father-in-law was a good guitarist and singer who tried to make a living early on in a band. Unfortunately, he was unable to make a living, so he limited his singing to church and retirement homes, as he got a more mundane job. So, he knew lots of songs to sing on our journey home. We heard Sinatra, Bennett, Como, Clooney, Martin, Cole, and many others.

They are both gone now, but when I think of them, this memory comes to mind. What a nice trip. Thanks for the memories. What are some of yours?

50 First Dates inspiration for dementia patients

One of my favorite Adam Sandler movies co-starring Drew Barrymore is interestingly called “50 First Dates.” In short, Barrymore’s character has recovered from an automobile accident, but with the exception of memories preceding the accident, forgets everything that occurs when she goes to sleep. Sandler woos her over fifty first dates, but makes his message stick when he produces a video with her friends and family for her to watch each morning.

In a terrific example of life imitating art, this concept has been successfully borrowed by Tamara Rusoff-Hoen who produced a video for her mother, Louisa Irving, a 94 year-old dementia patient. Below is a link to the Associated Press article written by Jim Fitzgerald of the Seattle Pi. She opens with a song in the video “Good morning, merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon?”

This song hit home with me, as my wife used to sing “You are my sunshine” to her mother who eventually died from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. She is now singing it periodically to my mother who we believe is limited to early stages of dementia.

With people living longer, we are seeing more struggle with dementia and even Alzheimer’s. Both are tough on the patient and the family, especially those closest to them. My mother knows my voice well, but sometimes when I visit from seven hours away, she forgets that I am her son. She is remembering a younger version of me. So, we are struggling with these issues as well, but hopefully not as extreme as with my mother-in-law.

I believe the “50 First Dates” video concept should be shared with everyone, as it is a great idea. In the below article, Robert Abrams, a geriatric psychiatrist notes the assurances this video can give to patients who feel “alone and at sea” and do not fully understand their circumstances. At a minimum, talk with your parents about these issues while they have their faculties. But, also help remind them of who they are and what they mean to you.

I will leave you with one quick story. When a friend dropped in to see her father with Alzheimer’s at a local long term memory care facility, she found him talking in the great room with others. So, she quietly sat down beside him. He eventually noticed her there and got excited and said “You are on our team.”  And, that is what we need to remind our loved ones of – we are on your team.

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/medical/article/Families-make-videos-to-reassure-patients-with-6205606.php