“I’m on a week long vacation at the shore with a specific goal in mind – to make memories. We are not at just any shore, we are at the Wildwood, New Jersey, shore. They shore where my parents lived, where they went to high school, where their story began. It is also where we lived every summer from the summer after my 6th grade year until my senior year of high school. My parents owned two apartment buildings which they rented out weekly, which means we cleaned every Saturday. We cleaned in a way most wouldn’t understand. It was hard work. Four apartments cleaned from top to bottom and in every nook and cranny every Saturday all summer long. We also worked in addition to the Saturday cleanings. I worked at a diner and clothing store. Mom believed that free time was time to get in trouble. So when you tell people you lived at the beach all summer, I imagine they pictured something other than what it actually was.
I am a firm believer in making memories instead of buying stuff (although we all have more stuff than we need). That started long before my mom’s dementia but it has been magnified since her diagnosis. For years I have opted to take my girls on trips for Christmas instead of buying them things they will forget about within months, if not weeks. Every summer I bring them to the shore – my shore – my mom and dad’s shore. I want my memories of familiarity and home to be what they feel when they come to this shore.
Growing up we knew the Wildwood High School fight song and sang it every time we saw the lights of the boardwalk as we drove back to their beginning in the family station wagon. It never meant much to me when we sang it nor do I remember the exact time we were taught this song but somehow it became our tradition – it became one of those memories that stay tucked away inside until you see the lights of the boardwalk as you roll into town and you start humming the song 45 years later.
Memories are a strange thing. They help to create who we are. I wonder why some stay and others dissipate as though they never happened? We all have memories and they are never the same as anyone else’s – even if you grew up in the same home. Throughout our lives we gather certain ones that reappear when someone says something, or we see something, or we smell something and then suddenly – there it is. Not as though you knew it was sitting there but there it is – that moment when a memory fills our space. They can cause pain. They can bring joy. They can make you laugh or cry. They sit there until poof, they take you back in time, if only for a moment. A moment that will soon disappear only to reappear another time.
As I watch my family together during our vacation this year I have spent a great deal of my time wondering. Wondering what they will remember. What memories they will tuck away. I wonder if this shore makes them feel like I feel when I see the boardwalk in the distance.
As my mom battles her dementia I realize the importance of a memory. The moments she is given to let one slip into her mind to grasp at anything that gives her a moment of who she is, who she was. Her dementia has shown me that memories are what we have. They are the important stuff. They are every feeling we have ever had in tiny corners of our mind and our heart that make us who we are.
Over the years as she loses more and more of these moments she has tucked away, we realize the depth of her loss. The pain it brings us and must bring her as she slowly disappears.
So I hang onto my memories. I try to savor the mundane, the crazy, the laughter, the tears, the madness and the love that crosses my path throughout my day because in the end, it’s all that matters.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She is chronicling her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page and in a series of posts for Love What Matters:
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