This past week, I started a palliative care rotation. One of our days was spent at a memory care center, where patients with dementia live. Outside each resident's room, there is a glass display filled with yellowing photographs, medals, crafts, paper with faded ink, etc. The tour guide explained to me that these were memory boxes, collections that were put together with the hope of triggering something familiar for each patient.
Patients with Alzheimer's Disease tend to lose their short term memory first. Past, present, and future become jumbled up. Often, their only sense of stability comes from stories. Stories about their first loves, their children when they were young, and accomplishments that are behind them.
Ask them to take their blood pressure medications? They'll often grimace or worse, comply apathetically.
Ask them about their families? They'll turn to face you and offer a few sentences or on a good day, share a memory.
Sometimes, when someone is struggling, a sense of familiarity, of recognition, can provide comfort.
In a way, writers are making their own memory boxes with their stories. Character motivations, settings, important plot points, antagonists, etc. All of these elements are trying to convey a sliver of life, if nothing more.
This week has made me rethink the role of stories. They're not just a source of entertainment. They're a form of preservation----maybe even healing. When all of those landmarks that construct a life have passed and time seems irrelevant, maybe all we have left are the stories.