The power of now and never

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 Permalink

I’ve been pondering a bit on a blog post I read last week, which was quite timely – particularly in light of my recent musings about choices, chances and changes.

Jo, from And Anyways, discussed a podcast she’d heard involving someone who lost her memory (for about six months) following a problem while undergoing an anaesthetic. Amazingly – although with no memory of her previous life or experience – ¬†she retrained in her job and actually achieved some ‘better’ outcomes this time around.

Jo wondered what it would be like to be incapable of remembering past failures. She imagined that having a blank slate on which to start again, without old baggage could be very advantageous with our fear of failure or past experiences gone.

She also talked about ‘firsts’: not remembering the first time you did something (kissed someone, saw a sunrise etc) and getting the chance to re-experience that first time.

I like the idea of NOT remembering the bad stuff and the failures. I wouldn’t remember not getting picked for certain sporting teams, or my coach who – early in my basketball career – had no confidence AT ALL in my ability.

I wouldn’t remember that I was once slim and a wannabe model and wonder how the hell I became the person I am today. I wouldn’t have the regrets I talked about in my last post. No Sliding Doors moments when I wished I’d continued journalism study rather than commerce, or taken one job over another.

Of course however, I wouldn’t remember the closeness I had with my niece when she was little. I wouldn’t remember life with my parents, I wouldn’t remember my grandparents who all died long (long ago)… and most importantly I wouldn’t remember why I didn’t like cauliflower and broccoli.

Jo’s post reminded me of my father, who passed away 21 months ago. I’ve mentioned before that he suffered from vascular dementia so had no ability to retain new memories. He (mostly) remembered his childhood and our lives, but had no idea what he’d done the week before, that morning or 5 minutes ago.


I tried to imagine what it was like for him. It’s been a long long time since I was drunk enough to have a memory loss but I still recall the feeling of disempowerment. Even now, if I’m really tired when I finish watching TV or reading a book I find my memories of its ending murky. And I hate it. It feels as if there’s a gaping hole in my life.

My father adjusted. After a period of time where he was surprised and frustrated to realise he couldn’t remember things he just seemed to accept it. And – he actually got to continually experience a lot of ‘firsts’. Again and again. In his final years, you could show him pictures of my niece (his only grandchild) almost hourly and he’d smile with delight. He was constantly bewildered by technology and impressed with the world around him – discovering things anew every day.

He wasn’t in the right place physically, mentally or emotionally to really make of the most of the time, but it’s occurred to me that it would be like ‘living in the moment’. Eckhardt Tolle and his ‘Power of Now’ followers might revel in such an opportunity.

Dad really didn’t know he was going to forget everything he was doing and experiencing. He’d realise he couldn’t remember anything recent and his long-term memories were becoming murky but – in his last few years – he just went with the flow. He didn’t live large however, and I wonder if that’s the trade-off – for both dad and the woman from Jo’s podcast.

She could forget past failings and disappointments and experience the world anew, but she also lost the good memories and experiences.

Dad could exist in the moment but without the momentum of the past and an enthusiasm for the future, he had no impetus to live life on the edge.

I have to admit that (from afar and not having to live with his confusion and constant questions) I was relieved that dad’s long-term memory was essentially intact and only new memories affected by his illness.
While neither long-term / short-term memory loss would be ideal, which do you think you’d prefer?
Any other advantages or disadvantages I’ve missed?



  • Jess
    August 6, 2013

    I don’t know which I would prefer, both would be kind of awful for different reasons. I like the way you can put a positive spin on it though! There are definitely something that would be nice to forget. It would be harder to function on a day to day basis with short term memory loss, because you know you could leave the oven on, get lost, put yourself in scary situations etc. My Aunt eventually died after struggling with dementia for many years and it was very sad and hard to watch. She was always aware of the fact that she had a really bad memory and would constantly call herself crazy. But would still argue with you about ridiculous things.
    It is an interesting thought though, to think about what you might do and what choices you might make if you had a blank slate.

    • Debbish
      August 6, 2013

      Jess, when my dad’s dementia first started to get serious he would go on about being ‘stupid’ or dumb.

      On the blank slate thing, I wrote a short story for a local comp thing which was the idea I had for a mini series about the whole blank slate thing – someone starting afresh sans baggage!

  • Char
    August 6, 2013

    You’ve made my head spin a bit with this post. I just can’t imagine how I’d be if I had no memory of my past. Would all those experiences that I’d learned valuable lessons from have to be relearned? I would hate to have all those precious moments – my youngest son being placed on my belly after he had just been delivered, the smile on my middle son’s face when he won a medal at states after training so hard, seeing my eldest sweep his girlfriend up in his arms. Those memories are more precious than gold so to have them wiped away would be such a tragedy.

    • Debbish
      August 6, 2013

      I guess the only saving grace with something like alzheimers is that ‘eventually’ you can’t remember that you can’t remember. As I said to Jess, the earlier stages with dementia or alzheimers is hard though – when people are realising that the memories are slipping from their grasp.

      The re-learning bit was interesting to me and the fact that the woman in Jo’s podcast actually did somewhat better in her previous job and maintained (and re-established) a relationship with her partner and kids!

  • Jo Tracey
    August 6, 2013

    I’m so much of a control freak that I’ve never been so drunk as to suffer any sort of memory loss. I refused drugs when I was in labour because I was afraid of not being in control & my biggest fear is general anaesthetic. When I first heard the podcast I was both fascinated & petrified. But what it brought up for me is just how precious those first times are & how limiting the fear of failure is.

    • Debbish
      August 6, 2013

      Absolutely Jo and obviously it all struck a chord with me!!!

      PS. It’s strange that I’m such a control freak but had my share of memory losses when I was younger. I guess it was the control freak in me which got really concerned though by the lack of recollection/control.

  • Liz@LastChanceTraining
    August 6, 2013

    I don’t know to be honest. I’ve had a few surgeries where the anaesthetic has affected my memory (short term) and it’s really quite horrible forgetting what you’ve just said and repeating yourself ad nauseum!

    • Debbish
      August 7, 2013

      Even before his dementia my dad used to tell the same stories again and again. I suspect some people just do that. It’s made me very conscious of the habit. I almost always automatically preface a story with the question, “Have I mentioned before….” just in case!

  • Satu
    August 8, 2013

    Great post, Deb!

    I have had short periods of time in my life when I was able to let go of my past – not because of memory loss though. I loved it while it lasted precisely because I wasn’t burdened by my past. Unfortunately those periods didn’t last very long.

    The post also brought to my mind S.J. Watson’s book Before I close my eyes – where the main character suffered from amnesia. I started reading the book when I was house sitting but didn’t finish it. I think I need to borrow the book..

    • Debbish
      August 8, 2013

      Sounds like an interesting book Satu!

      I suspect I still hold onto parts of my past, but I’m better than I once was. I did mention the former-skinniness in my blog but the anorexia thing was something I held onto for too long. “I was anorexic so I’m f*cked in the head and allowed to be weird about food and eating,” sort of thing.

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