Associative Memory

I woke up this morning thinking about the night my godmother died. Her passing was the first of two events for which I have spent significant time in a hospital (not as a patient in either case), and my subconscious dredged up memories of that time probably because I am nearing the clinical definition of full-term with my pregnancy and could thus be making my own hospital stay at any point in the next 5 or so weeks.

The power of a single moment, or series of moments, to echo with what feels like near-perfect reverberation years to decades later is amazing. It unleashes the same feelings, if a muted version of what you felt in that moment.

What I woke up thinking about what the last time she woke up. She had been in a comatose state on and off for about a day and a half; her initial admission to the hospital allowed some hope that the end was not imminent but that disappeared when she slipped into the sleeping state. Her cancer was too aggressive, and she was too tired to fight. My godmother was my mother’s best friend – they had been best friends since childhood. I had my own friendship with her, and in a lot of ways at the time of her death I was closer with her than my mom was. My godmother’s husband had called my mom to drive him to and from the hospital because he was, at that point, pretty foxed. My godmother woke up the last time while my mom was in transit one way or the other (at this point I don’t remember which). It left me and here brother and nephew in the room with her. She woke up, or at least her eyes opened enough to see that she was not alone, and she simply said “I’m dying. I’m dying.” And the three of us said, in our various ways, that we know, and it’s okay, and we love you. She said “See you sometime, somewhere” and slipped back under the waves for a few more hours before passing in her sleep.

What I have never known and will never know is if, in that last moment of waking, she saw me or my mother. (I have been told my whole life that I look like my mom, and when I see pictures of us together now that I am an adult I understand why people say it.) I don’t care which of us she saw standing there; I hope it was whichever of us would have been more of a comfort to her in that moment.

It’s been a long time since I thought about that night in much detail. Probably part of what brings it up now is my impending transition to motherhood with all its tangled connections (such as the above me/my mom thing, although with my son it is more likely to be a him/my husband thing) and also just that I haven’t seen much of hospitals and that was if not my very first memory of one certainly my most formative memory of one.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Associative Memory

  1. Hospitals represent places of hope – and of loss of control. Nobody really wants to go – even for routine medical procedures. Even ‘routine’ is fraught with associations we don’t like to face.

    It isn’t just the hospital, though they serve as a convenient focus for the angst: it’s the situation in life. Someone is being born, someone is dying, someone we love is very sick and may or may not pull through.

    I think the starkness of the physical places – with the implication that they have to be clean and sterile – doesn’t help.

    We need them – when I had an allergic reaction that scared the heck out of me, that’s where I went – but know that once we’re there, their whole system will take over. One of me – so very many of them (needed specialization to cover all the technical stuff we really want them to be able to do).

    Thanks goodness MOST hospital interactions end with the patient getting better and going home. Sometimes with a wonderful new present.

    May you have good support people, and a sense that they are all working with you for the good of your new little family.

    • I completely agree with your assessment of what hospitals are. They are places of change and places of need. Almost universally places of distress, even when the event is happy and the outcome is happy.

      But for those emergencies…i am glad they exist.

      If it weren’t for hospitals my godmother would have died years before she did.

      And i can’t think of a better blessing to take into L&D with me in a few weeks 🙂

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