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  • Writer's pictureElisse Gabriel

The Memories of Others

I was raised to believe that “our souls live on in the memories of others.” In other words, the type of person we are our in our lifetimes is what loved ones will carry with them.

Most of the time, people gather to share memories after a person has passed away. Right now, however, I am gathering memories about someone who is very much alive—a vision of health, in fact—at least physically. Mentally, she is fading away, though she has yet to turn 60.

A family friend (I’ll call Mary) was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s about five years ago, and while her family has done absolutely everything within their powers to try to combat it, she is now a shadow of her former self. Mary’s sparkle remains, but words fail her, as do everyday tasks that most of us take for granted, like getting dressed, or lifting a foot to get into a car, or retrieving her I.D. from airport security.

Mary’s daughter was just 12 when her mother was diagnosed with this devastating disease. How much does she remember about her mother before this time? Does she know that her mom was a record-setting swimmer in high school? Or a debutante? A fearless traveler who became fluent in both German and French? Or an international portfolio director at Lehman Bros.—the finest her boss had ever seen? Most of all, does she remember when her mom was the caretaker, not the other way around?

My friend’s husband (I’ll call James), approached me to help create a memory book, with hopes that it could help Mary more readily recall the chapters of her life, while also allowing her children to gain a glimpse of their mother in ways they may have never known, or might have forgotten. My role has been simple: to reach out, listen, and record.

The façades of Mary’s prominent family and high-powered friends melt almost instantly as I listen to them. We share a common purpose, so they open up without hesitation. I can feel the stirrings of excitement, of yearning, of love and admiration for Mary as I type, relishing the opportunity to be the person who gets to be not so much the story teller, but the story bringer.

I look forward to uniting this bounty of stories into a book bursting with fun, sometimes silly, often poignant,and always meaningful memories, each an invaluable gift that will undoubtedly be treasured—not just by Mary and James, but also their children, and hopefully, generations to come.

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