"What is it to remember?" I find myself silently asking as someone decades younger than me washes my hair. Was her name Jane or Elise? I can't find it in my mind to tell you. I could once remember every staff's name, but I guess those things fade with age.
"Sit up a little, Mary," the young woman gently tells me. Her voice is smooth and sweet, like the dark chocolate I sometimes ate when I was younger. I look around for Mary, wondering who that might be, before I remember Mary is me. I use the strength in my muscles to push my body forward. I see the young woman smile and hear a small sigh escape. "You really need to get out of your bed more, hon'. You're starting to get some nasty sores," she says. I try to read her tone as she washes my body with a warm soapy cloth. The water burns the tender flesh on my back slightly as she does this.
Should I ask her The Question or save her the frustration? I've asked everyone the same question many times and the staff has gotten to the point that they oftentimes just roll their eyes. I find myself pursing my lips as the young woman finishes washing my body. I close my eyes for a moment and try to think. "What is it to remember?" I ask out loud.
The young woman looks at me, seriously, and then she smiles.
"Mary, you've asked that so many times and no one has ever really answered, have they?" she says.
"Either they haven't or I don't remember them answering," I say lightly as she helps me from the tub and towels me dry. She laughs a sweet laugh and I feel a memory somewhere in the distance, blurry and too far for me to reach. I feel tears of grief in my eyes, but it feels as though I can't even remember how to cry.
"Sweetie, to remember is a blessing and a curse. It's heart-fluttering laughter and joy with friends, but it's also all the painful ends. It's looking into a loved ones' eyes and smiling, but it's also witnessing someone's last breath and having that vision stuck with your forever. To remember is to know what chances you can take, but it's also fear and anxiety because you know all the ways things can go wrong. It's knowing your life story, but it's also not being able to block things out. Remembering is how we see the world even when we're all that's left. You take that away and-" she stops suddenly, with tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry, I really shouldn't be going on like this," she says as she puts me into my clothes.
I meet her eyes and feel a warm tear slide down my cheek. "Please...go on," I whisper. A tear hits her cheek and she takes my hand.
"Mary, remembering is the one thing that makes us human beings and to take that away is to take away the person. You take away every essence of who someone is and replace them by someone incapable of the greater joys of life. That's why I do what I do," she pauses to wipe her eyes. "Because I care enough to see beyond the forgetting and the pain that comes with not remembering your own child's name. I want to ease the transition into whatever may be next because you never know...I may be where you are some day," she explains before helping me to my room. "Now, how about something to eat?" she says, changing the subject as I sit on the bed she has led me to.