Thus, solve the following for X. You – Your memory = X.
That’s right! X = Not you. The human ability to extend our selves into the past and future is completely dependent on the memory system we have evolved. We use memory in every aspect of our lives from remembering what to get at the grocery store to recalling the most important days of our lives (weddings, proposals, births, deaths, etc.). This latter class of memories, known as autobiographical memories or memories of one’s self, are like beads on a necklace of time that when strung together make up our ‘self’. When the ability to remember is lost in diseases that cause retrograde or anterograde amnesia, like Alzheimer’s dementia, or traumatic brain injury, we slowly lose the beads that make up our ‘self’. As I’ve mentioned before, it is also extremely important to document our lives so that when we suffer from normal forgetting, we have something to remind us of our past, which gets me to the event that sparked this post.
This past weekend marked 1 year since my Mom suddenly passed away. Remembering her is the best way I know to honor her and find solace in her loss. I have created photo albums of her, saved the last 5 months of voice mails she left me, and asked my grand parents and her sisters for memories of her (pictures, video, recollections). My extended family is very tight knit and gets together at every holiday and many birthdays to celebrate with those we love. My Mom was the first family member we have lost that has been an integral part of the extended family I have known for 27 years. We got together yesterday to celebrate our memories of her and be with each other. One of the highlights of the get together was a newly digitized compilation of hours of home video from my Mom’s family growing up. I just sat there with my jaw dropped watching my families past parties and my Mom grow up. Even though there was no sound for most of it, it was fascinating to see the people I know and love, move in different bodies than I have ever known them in. Even though I wasn’t there for most of these past home videos, it improved my sense of who each of my family members are and where they came from. You may be thinking, ok, what does this have to do with memory = you? Well, just as your ‘self’ persists in your memory, a version of your ‘self’ also persists in the memory of all those you know, especially those who you love and love you. Through our experiences with our friends and family, we build a concept of our selves in their minds. The self concept and memories from which it is composed is how our loved one’s persist beyond death. They live through us by the impact they had on our lives and memories.
Please make making memories with those you love a priority in your life, no matter how busy you are. If there is one thing we can never get back it’s time. The only way we have developed to reclaim some of that passed time is making memories to retrieve when there is no more time to have with the people we love. Invest time, make memories, and love one another because when we increase the quality of our memories we increase the quality of our selves (i.e. better memories = better you).