Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick —
A few weeks ago I spent the weekend visiting my family in the Detroit area where I grew up. As my parents’ memories fade, it was important for me to see them so I could have a better understanding of how much they can remember, and on a sadder note, what they have more difficulty remembering. In all likelihood, their ability to remember both recent and distant past will not improve as they age further, so spending time with them face to face rather than simply calling or e-mailing them was important.
As I watch my parents’ memories fade, I contemplate my own aging, and wonder whether I will meet a similar fate assuming I am fortunate to live long enough. My wife optimistically believes that I will fare better as I exercise more than my parents did, and I take some supplements that are supposed to improve my brain function and prevent memory loss. While I hope she is right, I also acknowledge the strong possibility of having my memories fade as I age. So, during my visit, I took the time to visit my brother’s grave, which I have not been able to do for many years as the cemetery where he is buried has limited visiting hours.
As you can see from the photo, my brother, Dougie, as we affectionately called him, died at a young age, as a result of a reaction to a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, which gave him encephalopathy and a seizure disorder. Fortunately, medical science has improved that vaccine so it no longer carries that risk of a fatal side effect, which I addressed when discussing the myth that vaccines cause autism with a Congressman last year.
Sadly, on the day he died, Dougie had a seizure in his sleep, and suffocated, as no one was with him to turn him over so he could breath. This was a devastating event for our family. I was 7 years old at the time, and I vividly remember when my parents found him blue and lifeless. I remember when my parents came home from the hospital to tell my brother Nathan and I, that Dougie had died. To this day, it is the only time I have seen my father cry. My mother declared, quite rightly, that no parent should have to watch their child die.
My brother Nate joined me when we visited Dougie’s grave. As as you can see from the photo, we both followed the Jewish tradition of leaving a stone on his gravestone as a sign that we were there to remember him. As we both were feeling the sadness of our young brother’s premature departure from life, I reminded my brother that if Dougie had not died, our parents would not have decided to have another child, our sister Sarah would not have been born 3 years later. And if Sarah had not been born, she would not have married and subsequently given birth to her two beautiful children.
Thus, out of Dougie’s tragic death, arose the beauty of my sister and her family. These are not choices we make, but by remembering how the cycle of life continues and evolves, we can acknowledge that when we continue to remember those who we have lost and acknowledge that their passing has consequences, which are sometimes positive, their memories do indeed continue to live. With this acknowledgment, my brother and I gave each other a big hug, and then went out to lunch to continue our conversation and share more memories to support each other.
The future is indeed unpredictable. But we can take the time out of our busy lives to share memories with our loved ones, to help preserve those memories and acknowledge the connection that we all have to each other. In this way, the memories of those who struggle to hold onto them, as well as those who have passed, are a precious blessing.
This essay was originally published on Jeffrey’s blog at Systems Change Consulting (Oct. 24, 2018).