It’s 10:30 am on Friday and I have been up since 5 with about three hours sleep prior. This week I just don’t seem to be able to sleep. I just lay there staring into the blackness without thinking much about anything. All the while my dog tightly packing himself in between my wife and I.
I toss and turn a few times, get up and walk the hall, get back into bed. No known reasons, no real worry, no aliment or comfort issue. It makes it all the more alarming not being able to articulate it – but I do what I can to not let it get to me. Obsessing over things like this will just make it worse.
My early morning call was to take my uncle into the hospital for surgery.
My uncle has made a habit out of worrying for many years and he has a tendency to ramp up the drama when in the moment. This drama is covered with a polish of self-deprecation just to keep things entertaining. He is one of the last remaining diamonds in a collection that has slipped through my fingers and dropped into eternity far too fast.
As time goes on people vaporize and we find ourselves left with fewer and fewer people that have travelled along with us on the race to today. People drift apart, die, trade in their relationships for substances, or just want to escape the past. Nothing ever stays the same.
What my point is, is that when we loose people, we loose memories. Shared memories and versions of parallel lives can offer connected people great comfort, insight, and fellowship.
I call it connecting memory. If you get two people with a considerable history communicating, electricity can happen, and each person’s brain opens up age-old pathways that may have been locked for years. One individual shares an anecdote, the listener interprets it and it becomes the fuel to open doors and rabbit holes into our consciousness that may have otherwise been lost forever.
I will use my deceased grandfather as an example. When he died, all of his memories died with him. There are things he had told me that I will never ever recall again. Pathways of thought that will never reignite. Ones that only he could instigate and get my brain to react to, and fire off on. Maybe a detail of my childhood that he remembered. A small perception or opinion of my father. Maybe even the sound of his voice, the tone and manner of his behaviour in the moment. Lost and gone forever. Influence that can never be replicated without his physical presence and the intermixing of our cognitive energies.
So, now I seek these things out a little more than I used to. My father is a good source, My uncle also. I see a lot of value in the moments that involve the discussion of the past and discussions about those that are long-dead and/or somewhat forgotten.
I like to be reminded of things and relate it to rummaging through an old box of mementos or photo albums. I like getting new insights on things that are long-presumed or that have not been pondered on for many years.
My Uncle and I play memory tennis as he sits somewhat defeated in his electric-blue hospital gown and robe. His feet look like he is mistakingly wearing shower caps on them and he has himself positioned on a reclining chair that somehow looks like it was designed to be purposefully uncomfortable. His age shows, and through it I see my own looming mortality. I feel for him and hate that he has to undergo the experience.
We distract each other with conversation that has great purpose and words that hold little if any pretence. There is a long deep connection here that has formulated over 50 years. It is one of a kind that could never be replicated or replaced. I think of it like noticing that perfect singularly unique snowflake that landed on my mitten one sunny winter day. It gave me a few seconds to see its beauty and perfection, then melted away forever.
My uncle and I see ourselves in each other. We see our past and all of those we know and knew. Our brains connect and travel in tandem forwards and backwards together but then still entirely separate. We laugh at each other and our fallibility. We take comfort in our commonality.
We are connected more by memory than any other thing. We are a generation apart but it makes no difference. He shares small stories with me about his teenage years. Stories brought on by my lines of questioning, that take him back, and deep into himself. I watch him pause and look at nothing as he processes. His detail and retelling is articulate and flavourful. There is a magnetism to it.
Tiny little stories and the feelings behind them. They lead to the relationship he had with his father, my grandfather. It gives me insight from a perspective I never had before. The value in these seconds of conversation are priceless. Not because we are old, not because he is about to go into surgery and we are in a state of worry. They are priceless because they are as individual and fleeting as the snowflake. They create a cognitive beauty and pleasure that is beyond any drug.
I get a moment of self doubt about this post and think, oh Derek you are over-tired and sentimental.
No, actually I think I am perfectly clear headed and just a little self-conscious.
We talk a bit more in between the commotion of the pre-op and then a cute little nurse begins to steal him away. Reluctantly we sever our connection and he hands me his glasses. We shake hands, I pat his shoulder and break eye contact as he shuffles away in his shower-cap slippers. It all turns very formal only for the reason to prevent it from getting too sentimental. It pulls at me thinking about it now and I well up a few times happy to have been here and to spend the time.
I can’t help thinking of all of those that are gone and unreachable. Like deceased mothers, grandmothers and siblings that have broken ties, or others just lost and forgotten. Those with no time or those that have forgotten what it means to be connected, want to erase the past, and can’t see past the disfunction or unhappy times. What I wouldn’t give to visit with my grandmother for even twenty minutes. Or to spend an afternoon with my mother. The only way to connect to those gone or lost is through our memory and the memories of others.
People thank me, and are gracious for taking the time to help my uncle out, and to be here for him.
For me trading in a few hours sleep is a minute price to pay to have the opportunity to share time and connect memories with my uncle. It is simply paramount and unforgettable.