As a Facilitator, I have been present for a number of conversations with people experiencing memory loss as part of the StoryCorps Memory Loss Initiative. Sometimes these conversations are an opportunity for the person with memory loss to share his or her stories, but it is not always so straightforward. In one conversation, a son and his father sat with their sensational mother and wife, whose stroke had left her unable to speak more than a few words. She listened to her husband recount their four year courtship through letters while he served in World War II.
Her son also remembered her devotion to her children and the love for theater she instilled in him. She was quiet and unresponsive during the interview but dazzled everyone near the end with a smile and the words, “Them were the days.” While her voice barely registers on the recording, she is present in the voices of loved ones as they narrate her story. She gently asked him what his very favorite song was, aware that he might not know. He thought for a moment and then replied it was one from his grandmother that goes, “When I get [sic] too old to dream / I’ll have you to remember.”
The words, originally from a love song written by Oscar Hammerstein in 1934, were unexpectedly poetic in the moment. They capture the inevitability of loss associated with aging and also the way that the memory of a loved one endures as other details fade. This is something I have often seen as people make their recording; an individual may have difficulty remembering many details or events yet they are confident in expressing love for the person sitting across from them.
Beyond that is the fear that eventually even this relationship will be forgotten, along with the details of a person’s life–the very things that make up a personal history and a personality. In this case, it is the spouse, friend, son or daughter who carries the stories and becomes the one “to remember.”