Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Memory=a constructive process



The Theft of Memory
Jonathan Kozol

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, where we remember our fathers and honor them. The Theft of Memory is Kozol’s tribute to his father who passed away in 2008 age 102 years. So roughly the son knew the father for 70-some years. That’s a long time. Yet towards the end, which seems reasonable, the father’s memory began going. The subtitle of the book is: "Losing My Father One Day at a Time."

This book will resonate with families dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Or even families dealing with loved ones in general. It hasn’t been quite a year yet since I lost a dear friend, Fred Burkhart and though his mind was always strong, there were times when because of physical weakness or medications or even just approaching death, he would zone out, go into his own world. And, I would think, this is how it is to lose someone. Not quite, and not yet, but a foretaste of grief.

It is the long good-bye.

Kozol chronicles what it is like to lose a loved one and to lose them also to an interior world of Alzheimer’s. And, because his father Harry Kozol was a neurologist and psychologist, he also understood what it is like to have memory gaps, those moments when you simply cannot remember how you got somewhere or what you were just doing. He was a collaborator in the book, in that he added to his son’s observations and as best he could offered insight into the process of memory loss, an on-going evolution. He wrote notes about what he was feeling/thinking before his diagnosis and during the decade afterwards.

From the book:
I have had the opportunity to think a great deal since my father’s death about the truthfulness of memory . . . Neuroscientists today would argue that there isn’t any bank account, or storage box, in which our memories are waiting for us to retrieve them—to “reach in and pull them out”—but instead there is only the act of remembering—

“Memory is not a literal reproduction of the past,” writes Daniel Schacter, the chair of the Department of Psychology at Harvard—it is instead, “a constructive process” by means of which “bits and pieces of information” are reassembled into a new reality.

This should help put the mind of the memoirist at ease.

“The notion that we re-create and, in the process, reinvent some portions of our memories—”

That is why we can also substitute the word recollect for remember. We are literally re-collecting what we have and hoping to rebuild the tree fort of our childhood, youth, the early days of one’s marriage, yesterday.

The Theft of Memory is Kozol’s loving recollection of his aged parents and how he sought to navigate the gaps in order to bring them into their final days with a sense of dignity.
My father, Harold Feeback, at his writing desk, late 1940s while at Ohio State

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