Remember the good times – while we can

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Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, francophile and single mother of three young adults. She knows the value of support networks after almost losing her life in a car accident 10 years ago – on the day she planned to leave her marriage. Her website, diywoman.net, was created to provide a similar support network. There, she writes from practical experience about issues of interest to people over 50.

Today, in her first monthly column for YourLifeChoices, she shares the importance of memories – even when they fade and even if the eight-month-old granddaughter won’t remember that joyous outing with gran.

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What happens when shared memories are no longer shared? When – even as you are living a wonderful moment with a loved one – you know you will probably be the sole keeper of its memory?

Lately, I’ve been spending precious time with family at both ends of the age spectrum.

The Christmas break gave me the opportunity to see more of my eight-month-old granddaughter and my 87-year-old mother. Sometimes both at the same time. Along with my daughter, four generations spanning 87 years sitting on the same couch in the same room. It’s a privilege not everyone is lucky enough to have.

Last week I took my granddaughter to the aquarium.

I don’t know who had more fun. It’s a long time between visits for me, and the first time ever for her. We loved watching the silvery schools of tuna flying overhead as we gazed upwards through the glass water-filled archway. The giant stingrays and sawfish seemed to hold no terror for her – unlike for her grandmother – and we both laughed at the antics of the king penguins as they jostled for food and tottered down the ice slide.

Our last stop was the ‘snow maker’, essentially an enormous bubble blower spouting out ‘snowflakes’ in the middle of a Melbourne summer. I watched the unfiltered delight on my granddaughter’s face and wondered what memory she would have of our first expedition to ‘the North Pole’ together. I’m guessing none.

Living in different states raises the stakes of our time together.

I want her to remember our good times in order to raise capital for myself in the good gran bank account. To recognise me every time we meet as that rowdy funster who takes her to the aquarium. I also want a red Vespa. And guess what? It ain’t gonna happen.

I have to be content that some kind of capital is built on every time we get together; that the fun stuff we do provides stimulation for a growing brain; that my memories of the good times are mine alone, but nonetheless worthwhile for that.

In some ways, the same is true of the time I spend with my mother.

Her short-term memory loss means that we often have hilarious, insightful, thought-provoking conversations that she won’t remember. She may be light on the details, but she will retain the strength of the emotion. Sometimes I ask her what kind of day she’s had and she frowns slightly and says, ‘It was exhausting’. She may not remember who dropped in or why the visit was challenging, but she keenly feels the physical after-effects of the visit.

Similarly, she might say, ‘I had a lovely day – I spent it in the garden.’ She won’t recall what tasks she performed, but she carries the sense of achievement and wellbeing with her until bedtime.

Two weeks ago, we watched Ladies in Black together at the cinema.

Set in 1959, there were scenes of Sydney Harbour with the iconic bridge as a backdrop. I leaned in to whisper, ‘That’s Sydney, Mum’ and she turned a tear-streaked face towards mine. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘It reminds me of visiting Auntie Jan when I was 18.’

Mum’s memories of her golden youth are as clear as yesterday. It’s just yesterday that’s hazy. I held her hand for a few minutes in the dark of the cinema. She may not remember that. But she does remember how much she loved watching the film. With me. And she remembers how much she loves her great-granddaughter. And that’s all that matters. 

Do you have a treasure trove of memories? Do you regularly revisit them? Do photos, food, smells trigger your memories?

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Written by ElizabethQ

4 Comments

Total Comments: 4
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    Such a poignant recollection of times spent with loved ones. Reading this brought a tear to my eyes as I too have grandchildren living in a different state and cherish every moment I have with them even on FaceTime. I speak often of my recollected memories with them to others and so relive them again and again. Photos taken or sent from others serve also to put memories back into my mind. I know that we can’t live in the past but we can take some of it with us on our journey.

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    Every person I meet and chat with I tell to write down their personal history in their own words – because one day their descendants will want to know who and what they are – and even reading their own words is a great indicator of the person they are/were.

    It all started for me with the realisation that I knew absolutely nothing about my grandfather in WW I – since he died in his early-mid 60’s and I only knew him for a few years. Quite an interesting tale, actually… Infantry with a four digit enlistment number, worked in the tunnels under Messines, wounded twice and medically unfit for full duties from mid 1917, but stayed on as a runner – probably a more dangerous job.

    Just an ordinary man of the times with no special medals… those men never cease to amaze me with their courage and fortitude, and how their later descendants will fare under a society that de-masculates and bullies men I don’t know…..

    I wish I’d known more when I was a child… he used to sneak us into the local gas works (upstairs) overlooking the ANZAC Day parade, saying to the man at the door, with a wink, that he was the night watchman . I think that man was in the know… but times were different then and he let it go…. anything for a Digger.

    How times have changed…. now they are shunned in seeking work, partly due to Hollywood and PTSD, which is hugely misunderstood.

  3. 0
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    I liked your post very much. Your grand-daughter will probably retain a “body memory” of a small part of the day. Before we develop enough language to store conventional memories, the sensations we feel in our skin, muscles, organs, eyes,ears, mouth and nose are still recorded in the brain. Maybe the first time she experiences snow later in life it will give her a feeling of deja vu or pleasure that she can’t explain. I am convinced that babies who have had experiences with their grandparents remember that person as very significant in their life over long periods of separation. I have 3 year old grandson whom I’ve lived thousands of kms apart from, who has always been comfortable and content with me – in fact, he recognised me – when he was too young to have formed mental memories of me from many months previous.

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      When we first met my grandson – having traveled to Adelaide from NSW – his first port of call was to hypnotise Grampa into holding him… the moment he was on my lap he was happy to just go on with what he was doing…. they seem to know. Nine-ten months old..


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