Memory pools . . . I wrote the term on the back of a bank deposit slip because I read it somewhere and liked the idea. My note said, “These are places like hospital waiting rooms, where memories accumulate in vast amounts because of the deep, grazing experiences people have there.” The bank slip ended up in the bottom of a laptop bag and I never re-read the note to myself until weeks later when I got home from vacation. I wondered where the magical phrase came from. The only legible author information was “Joyce”. Was it James Joyce?
Thank heaven for Google. A search engine remembers so many things that I can’t. It’s even harder to keep track of details lately because my mom’s care needs have surged dramatically. Figuring out new ways to meet them feels like a part-time job. To this harried person, memory pools sound like cool, tranquil bodies of water where caregivers should swim a few laps before autumn sets in. Or they might be watery regions of the brain where the beautiful recollections of your life gather to keep each other company.
To solve the mystery of the memory pools I typed my three clues — “memory pools Joyce” — into the Google search bar. In less than one second, I found out that this concept comes from Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir, “A Widow’s Story.” The book chronicles the author’s devastating experience of unexpectedly losing her husband after nearly 50 years of marriage.
Suddenly, I remembered that I was attracted to the idea of “memory pools” because it seems to me that caregivers spend huge amounts of time in them. Until Joyce Carol Oates gave me a name for these places, they were just abstract experiences. A memory pool could be the doctor’s office where hundreds of worried families try to swallow the word “Alzheimer’s” or “dementia” when it’s delivered as a diagnosis. They could be the corridors where our loved ones sit while waiting for an MRI. All summer I felt like I was diving into a memory pool every time I entered my mom’s former home to pack up her belongings. How many cups of tea did we drink there at my grandmother’s oak table? How many times did we huddle under quilts in front of the TV while George Bailey discovered he’d had A Wonderful Life?
Then it occurred to me that caregivers may be the lifeguards watching over memory pools. As the details of their lives slip away from our loved ones, we strive to preserve them in some form that can be cherished and passed along. Memory pools are places where the tides of our lives rise and fall and push our wobbly boats toward the sea.