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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Our Senses Bring Life To Our Past

Memory is a funny thing. So often it eludes us. "What was her name?" "What street is that on?" "Who sings that song?" Little pieces of information float around in our heads. How convenient would it be if everything was filed away and easily accessible? But so often we find ourselves in the middle of a conversation and forgetting our point. Or walking into a room and wondering why we went into it in the first place.

Yet, a song, a smell, a situation can throw you back in time and sit you right back into that place. My mom used to wear Ciara perfume. Everyday. I hardly stumble on it anymore, but when I do, it's as if she's standing beside me. Music has the same power to be a time machine. If Madonna's "Like A Prayer" ever comes on the radio, it's 1989 and I'm driving down the road with my best friend, Kathleen, singing at the top of our lungs. I'm back in that moment if only for a few seconds.

Last Sunday, only one month after placing my Mom to rest, I attended the funeral of a woman I'd never met. But she was the sister of someone I admire and care for deeply. Attending the services was a vastly different experience. My Mom's was a video tribute to her life followed by a Christian minister's words. The other service involved a Rabbi describing an amazing life, accented by the beautiful, soulful song of a cantor. Sitting in the moment of celebrating this life yanked me back to just a few weeks ago when I said good-bye to my own Mom. The emotions that surfaced were visceral.

We often try to push through tough experiences. It's a survival instinct. But when we do, we create memories that are warped. We push our emotions down and vow to deal with them later. In doing so, we end up forever changing the lens through which we see certain things. Our memories dilute or amplify depending on the circumstance. Subjective and molded by the emotions we refused to confront.

When I think of my Mom's death, I want to create in my mind memories that preceded illness. I want to remember holding her hand as we walked into the bread shop. Her kissing me goodnight. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies and her perfume.

What's so wonderful about the sensory nature of memory is that even though she's gone, simple things bring her back. Right next to me.

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