Memories and Souvenirs

Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Mark Des Cotes, I’ve had way too many hot chocolates this week and I believe if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday I talk about holding on while letting go.

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Today’s Fun Fact of the Day:
With the holiday season here you can’t help stumbling upon one of the Peanuts specials on TV. In honour of them and the new movie I give you today’s fun fact. Did you know that Charlie Brown’s father was a barber? Is that why he only has 3 hairs on his head?

Here’s What I leaned yesterday.
My dad is 88 years old and still independent. He still drives his car, and he still lives in the house we bought back in 1979 when my family moved back to Ontario.

But not for long.

My dad’s memory is starting to go. Especially his short term memory. He has trouble remembering details from anything recent. Last month for my daughter’s 16th birthday we decided to go out for dinner. I had told my dad a few days before but I knew he wouldn’t remember so I called him that day at noon to remind him to join us at the restaurant at 6pm.

At 5pm I called him again. He had forgotten of course, but told me he would start getting ready and meet us there.

We got to the restaurant a bit early so while the family went in, I stayed outside to wait for my dad. 6pm came and went and he still wasn’t there. I tried calling him but there was no answer so I thought perhaps he was running a bit late.

When I still didn’t see him I tried calling a few more times. Around 6:30 my dad finally picked up the phone. I ask him what he’s doing and he told me he was taking a nap. When I told him we were waiting for him at the restaurant his response was “is that today?” He didn’t remember me calling him at 5 to remind him. That’s the way it’s been for a little while now.

He’s been forgetful for a few years not but we started noticing it getting worse about a year ago. So much so that he started noticing himself. He would often tell me his memory was going. And of course he would never remember that he had told me.

My dad’s been living alone since my mother passes away in 2013. When we started noticing the problem more and more I talked to him about the possibility of moving him into a retirement home. I was afraid that he might forget to turn the stove off or something and I would feel better knowing he was somewhere where people could keep and eye on him.

He was actually very open to the idea and suggested we start looking at the various options available to him in town. We narrowed it down to a few different places but when it came time to choose he always wanted more time to think about it. As I said, he was in good health so there wasn’t a big rush.

A few months ago I noticed something else that got my concern. The pharmacy that handles my dad’s pills supplies them in bubble packs for him. It looks like an oversized pack of Chicklets gum. Each day’s pills are on a row with a blister for morning, noon, dinner and bedtime. All my dad has to do is pop the appropriate blister and take his pills.

I started noticing that that he wasn’t consistent with his pills. I try to stop by at least once a week and I would notice some times that the pills for the last couple of days were still there. When I questioned my dad about this he would tell me he took them, but with his memory he could be remembering taking them a few days ago.

That was that. I told my that it was time to make the retirement home arrangements and he agree. We went for a few more tours and finally put a deposit to add his name to a waiting list at one of the places. They would let us know when an apartment became available. My dad was actually a little excited about the whole thing.

Last week they called me to say an apartment would be available on December 8. When I told my dad it suddenly became real for him and he wasn’t as upbeat as he was before. He still liked the idea of moving there and having people to socialize with, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving the house he’s lived in for over 35 years.

Because of my mom’s back problems, my dad started sleeping in my old room not long after I moved out. As I mentioned earlier, my mom passed away a couple of years ago. Her bedroom hasn’t really been touched since. I offered to help my dad go through it but he always told me he’d do it himself, but he never got around to it.

We had already decided that when it came time to move, my dad would take my mom’s bedroom set because it is much better than the one in my old room.

This past weekend, with the move less than 2 weeks away, I finally said enough is enough and I started clearing out my mom’s room. Let me tell you, that woman liked to hold on to keepsakes. I found souvenirs from just about every special occasion from my, and both my brother’s lives as well as all her grandkids.

It was really tough. I knew most of the stuff needed to be thrown out. My dad wasn’t going to take it to his new apartment and most of it isn’t worth anything to anyone else. So I had both the recycling box and large garbage bin in the room to discard things in. My dad had a hard time of it. He had a story to go along with just about every item we found. There were things there my dad hadn’t seen in probably 40 years. Most he had completely forgotten about. And yet it was a struggle for me to persuade him to get rid of them.

Over and over again I had to tell him that it’s the memories that are precious not the objects themselves. My mom still had the cake topper from my first communion. Newspaper clippings of an award I won back in college. Kim and my wedding program. I told my dad that these were all things to do with my life, and if I was ok getting rid of them he should be too.

In the end, it took me around 7 hours to clean out a room that should have taken me 3. I filled up four large garbage bags and two recycling boxes. Towards the end my dad wasn’t protesting as much. But I’m glad it was garbage night and I was able to put the bags directly at the road. Otherwise I’m sure he would have gone back though them after I left.

It’s never easy to part with of those sort of things. But in the end we did.

Here’s what I learned.
I hadn’t really ever thought about it until this past weekend, but going through my moms souvenir collection brought something to light.

We go through life collecting triggers. Every souvenir, trinket, keepsake we collect, either put away somewhere safe or out on display is a trigger for a memory. The object itself doesn’t really hold any value beyond what it cost. It’s the memory associated with it that is priceless.

As I look around my office I see my sword collection. Without hesitation I can tell you which is my most precious. Not because it’s the most expensive, because it’s not. It’s because It’s the one Kim gave me on our 15th wedding anniversary. Every other sword in my office I bought myself. That sword is precious to me because it’s a trigger. I think of Kim every time I look at it. I love that sword, but if something happened and I loss it, It wouldn’t affect my memories of Kim at all.

When my grandfather passed away he left me his gold ring. It was something he had been awarded at work for years of dedicated service. Every memory I have of him he’s wearing it. Several years later our house was broken into and the ring was among the items stollen. I was crushed at the time. It was the only keepsake I had of my grandfather. But now I realize that it was only a trigger. Sure a solid gold trigger, but a trigger nonetheless. It wasn’t a nice looking ring so I never would have worn it myself. And since it was a keepsake I never would have sold it. So the only value the ring had for me was the memories of my grandfather associated with it. And since I didn’t loose those memories with the ring it just proves to me that it wasn’t that important.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t collect or keep things. What I’m saying is that the value is in the memories and even though it hurts to loose them. It’s not the end of the world. We’ll get over it.

I always feel bad when I see someone on the news that’s lost everything they had due to a fire, natural disaster, or war. I don’t wish that upon anyone. But in time, they will get over the loss and move on. They may feel the heavy loss of all their keepsakes and souvenirs. But the memories associated with those triggers are still with them.

Who I really feel for are those with alzheimer’s or some other ailment that causes them to loose those precious memories. The people whose triggers no longer work.

I’m grateful that my dad still retains those precious memories. He may be having trouble remembering short term things but if the many stories he told me on Saturday are any indication his long term memory is working fine. And I told him as much. That’s what helped him discard of so many of my moms things. He realized that the value was in those memories, not in the objets themselves.

I’m Mark Des Cotes and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

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