Can hope exist without memory?

Jul 12, 2022 | 2 comments

“Happy 96th!” Sydney and Mom, 2007

Some years back, when my mother was still living at the nursing home up at the west end of Pioneer Road, we had an incident which I’ve never forgotten,  Nor have I ever quite come to an understanding of it.

It was one of those pouring down January evenings — cold, pitch black, but not yet dinner time.  Nyel and I had gone to pick up mom and take her home for fried oysters or clam chowder or another of her favorites — I’ve sort of forgotten.

Mom looks at Dear Medora with Nyel, 2007

She was smiling as the nurse’s aide brought her outside and she stood with me patiently under the overhang as Nyel brought the car as close to us as possible .  He leaned over, opened the passenger door, and  I quickly manuevered her into the car.  But not quite quickly enough.

As soon as the rain hit her face, she began to scream.  And then to cry.  “It’s okay, Mama!” I kept saying.  “Get in the car.  It’s okay.”  But she was terrified.  It was cold.  It was wet.  And she had no idea what it was or what was happening to her.

We all — Nyel and I and the aide — understood that she did not “recognize” the rain — had no memory of it.  Or of much else.  And when I kept repeating, “It will be all right,” those words had no meaning either.

Once in the car, of course, she began to calm down. And soon all was well. When we got home, Nyel cleverly drove directly into the garage and we were able to get her into the house without going back out into the rain.  But I’ve never forgotten her fright.  Nor have I ever forgotten the realization that without memory, there can be no hope.

By Thomas Bulfinch, 1867

Last night, I re-read the story of Pandora and her box (or jar as the story is related in Bulfinch’s Mythology). When “she slipped off the cover and looked in, forwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man — such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy, spite, and revenge for his mind…”  Only hope was left at the bottom of the jar…

No mention is made of memory, at least not in the story of Pandora and her jar.  And when Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, is spoken about later (as mother of the nine muses) there is no connection made between memory and hope.  I’m sure that must have been an oversight…


  1. Skyler

    That is heartbreaking. I am so sorry that your mother experienced that loss.

    • sydney

      Thanks, Skyler. Dementia is a horrible ailment, indeed! If you’ve ever been through it with a loved one, especially a parent, you can only hope fervently that it isn’t in your own future. Sydney


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