A Few Words On Memories

It’s been a highly emotional weekend for me. After a long battle, my Mom slipped quietly away in the middle of the night last Thursday. My dad, my sisters Laurel and Heather and I held her hand and stroked her forehead for most of the night as we watched her increasingly shallow breaths. We spent a lot of time reminiscing. It was all horribly beautiful. It was life – and death.

When a parent passes away, you feel like a large chunk of your life has been suddenly ripped away. In my almost 54 years on the planet, my mom has been one of the constants that has connected the ever-changing dots from my birth to today. As I started for the door of the hospital room for the last time and looked back at the tiny, still figure on the bed – also for the last time — I realized that constant is gone. I’m adrift. I’m an orphan (my dad is actually my stepdad). I’m at a loss for words.

Maybe that accounts for the huge wave of nostalgia that hit my sisters and myself this weekend. We realized that a significant piece of our lives was teetering on the edge of a precipice — slipping away from our grasp. We were desperate to freeze it in our memories, securing it for the future. When so much was slipping away, we needed to hang on to what we could. So, we wandered the streets of the small Alberta town we all grew up in. We snuck into our old high school, looking for the locker we had in grade 8 and sitting in the desks in the classroom. We tried to find our grad photos. We were even going to knock on the door of the house we all grew up in, 30 some years ago, and see if the new owners would let us take a quick look inside. But then we decided that was just a little too creepy.



The more past you accumulate, the more important it becomes. This is especially true for your childhood. We all need to know where we came from.

One of the most touching discussions I’ve had with my mom was a month and a half ago. I was asking her about her childhood. As she remembered, her face transformed. A small smile fixed to her lips, she sank into a warm remembrance of a post-war childhood in southern Ontario, safe in the embrace of an idyllic hometown (that has since become a sprawling suburb of Toronto), family card games with the laughter of the grown-ups fueled by gin and tonics, and summers spent “up north” in cottage country.

“It sounds like a good childhood,” I remarked.

“It was a good childhood. A really good childhood.”

She then closed her eyes and napped for a bit. I watched her sleep.  Life is short. Life is sad. Life is good.

So, I have some fundamental questions. For those of my generation or older, childhoods are reconstructed from mostly bad photographs, old letters and our memories.  None of these are terribly high-fidelity representations of reality. But this can be a good thing. It allows us to fill in the blanks, emphasizing the highs and forgetting the lows. For most of us, it gives us the childhood we wish we had, which can be very comforting 78 years hence as we lie in a bed, slipping toward the end of our journey.

But what will the essence of childhood remembrance be for the person who was born today? They will leave a huge digital dust trail. How much of it will be available in eight decades? As they try to construct a refuge in their memories, will there be digital evidence to call bullshit on them? Will indelible fidelity be a good or bad thing?

Daniel Kahneman has discovered that our remembered lives usually bear little resemblance to our actual experiences. Was my mom’s childhood really as good as she remembered? I know there was pain. I know there was heartache. I suspect life was much harder than she recalled.  

But that’s not the point. At that moment, when she needed it most, her past was what she wanted it to be. And that’s exactly what my sisters and I found this past weekend, when we needed it. It was a very human thing we did: highly inaccurate, totally implausible and completely indispensable. I wonder how technology might screw that up for my kids and grandkids.

Goodbye, Mom. Dream beautifully.

6 comments about "A Few Words On Memories".
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  1. Stewart Wills from, June 30, 2015 at 11:39 a.m.

    What a very thoughtful and beautiful piece -- thanks for sharing your thoughts at a difficult time.

    You also raise a very interesting point about the persistence of "digital memory." It may well be, though, that those born today will after 80 years have amassed so large and unwieldy a record -- a "digital dust trail," as you so aptly call it -- that it may paradoxically merely heighten the value of fallible, selective, malleable personal memory at the times that matter most.

    Good luck to you and your loved ones.

  2. Richard Hammer from Africa HD, June 30, 2015 at 11:40 a.m.

    My deepest condolences Gord. I went through the same scenario when I lost my mother two years ago. I have 60 years worth of beautiful cards, letters, photos and 16mm film to hold on to. I even saved her phone messages from my answering machine. As for the millenials...I doubt they will even notice when their mothers pass away. Their heads will be buried in their cell phones, texting or tweeting. Pathetic but true.

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, June 30, 2015 at 11:43 a.m.

    God Bless you and Family.
    The Digital Persona is a new "event horizon" for humanity.

  4. Jeff Schlueter from Nexidia Inc., June 30, 2015 at 11:50 a.m.

    My best wishes to you Gordon. I just went through this with my father's passing in March, after a full and prosperous life.  Interestingly, even for one of the Greatest Generation, he generated an amazing digital trail that was quite helpful to all the extended family. We put up a DropBox site where anyone could post pictures and memories, and it quickly filled to overflowing (literally, we outgrew the free service!). I took a sampling of all those pictures (everything from his birth certificate to the last photo before he died) and turned them into a nice video montage that we played at the funeral. So there is an example of how the digital age actually facilitated the process of grieving and recovering.

  5. Mahni Festo from GoodCause, June 30, 2015 at 1:18 p.m.

    My condolences Gord. And kudos on a beautifully written piece.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 30, 2015 at 7:21 p.m.

    Avah l'shalom. May she rest in peace.

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