The grace of forgetting

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By Marianne Delorey

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

 

“Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 “To be able to forget means sanity.”  Jack London

 

People who have lived a long time are survivors. They are already ahead of the game when it comes to dealing with hardship as it is impossible to live so many years without encountering adversity. However, life can be cruel and our later years have some nasty tricks.

Of all the indignities that longevity has to offer, memory loss can be the most unsettling. It is hard to imagine not being able to rely on your own brain to solve daily problems, recall words, or even recognize the faces of loved ones. But life is what you make of it, and I have always believed that every blessing is a curse and every curse can be a blessing.

I am sure most people have a hard time imaging memory loss as a blessing, but I have seen this first hand several times in the elders I have worked with.

Consider Jean. Jean is very agitated and is searching in her purse for something, but cannot recall what. Her disease has taken so much of her brain that most sentences are very garbled. But because she is so forgetful, she is also highly distractible. She is offered a comb from her purse, which she uses. This act offers her a physical sensation that grounds her and gives her something to do, which calms her down.

Consider Lou. Lou was so mad at his neighbor last night because in the middle of the night, the upstairs neighbor dropped something heavy. Lou woke with a start and had a hard time falling back to sleep. Now he is cranky and tired and remembers enough to be mad at his neighbor, but not much more than that. Another neighbor mentions that someone went out in the ambulance last night and Lou connects the dots and assumed that was what woke him up. Now, instead of being mad, he is sorry to hear about his neighbor’s fall.

Consider Evan. Evan’s psychiatric meds sometimes fall out of whack and he needs them adjusted, but explaining that to him when his brain is not working correctly is almost impossible.  It is only when he forgets bigger picture items (like where he lives) that his family is able to convince him that getting in the car might lead to a fun adventure and that going to the doctor was his idea.

Consider Estelle. Estelle had a falling out with her sister 30 years ago and they had barely spoken since. They end up in the same nursing home (the family wanted the convenience) and although Estelle does not recognize her sister, they begin again and reestablish a relationship, and then a good friendship. They play cards every day and the sister and she chat amiably. While the falling out cannot be erased, they can part this life as friends and the families can mend.

It is the forgetful among us that teach the most about love and forgiveness. We all have something to learn from these people. Life is short. Enjoy the ones you love.  Hold them near to your heart and forget all the stupid little things that don’t matter anyway. Losing your memory may make life a lot more difficult but it makes love a lot easier.

 

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes.  She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.