What if Your Brain Stored Memories of Every Waking Moment?

Camping

Camping with my dad (left to right): me; my sister, Andrea; my dad, Larry Blumer; my younger brother, Aric; and my older brother, Aaron. I was, I think, three or four at the time.

The notion of lost memories and the mysteries of the brain have always fascinated me. Even more so when my dad was diagnosed with stage-4 brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme) in January 2009. Because my parents moved to my town for Dad’s cancer treatments and I sometimes helped out as caregiver, I got to see the ravages of brain cancer up close and personal.

Sometimes when my mom needed to get groceries or run other errands, I sat with my dad and worked on my laptop (rather like I’m doing now) while he slept in a reclined wheelchair. Usually Dad slept soundly, but other times he mumbled words. Names. A smattering of mumbled speech. Something garbled from a dream.

Normally, the soliloquy made little sense, but sometimes I recognized a name. Roger. Wayne. (Those are the names of two of my dad’s four brothers.) I heard only an occasional word, but Mom described episodes when Dad said full sentences. As if one of his brothers were in the same room and they were interacting as boys again.

As if he were reliving a memory.

Of course, a lot of folks talk in their sleep—that’s nothing unusual—but I wondered if Dad was experiencing something more. At that point he’d already disconnected from our world in so many ways. Perhaps a dreamworld enmeshed in a tangle of past memories was his new normal now.

Now that Dad has passed into glory (since August 17, 2011) and some time has passed since he left us, I can look back at his experience with more emotional distance and ponder the mysteries of what I observed.

My grandparents on my dad’s side, Mildred and Fred Blumer, both now with the Lord

I also consider the mystery of Grandma (Mildred) Blumer, my dad’s mom, who died of a stroke. She made the best sweet rolls when we visited her house in St. Clair, Michigan. And we all miss her and my dad so much.

After one of her first strokes, my mom took care of her on a short-term basis while my parents looked for a nursing home. My mom told me about watching her during that first long night after the stroke. Grandma had a one-way phone conversation with my Uncle Wayne—something about my cousin Linda or somebody having a bad cold and hoping she’d get better soon.

The stroke had apparently unlocked memories stored in her brain, and she’d been reliving them. Perhaps my dad’s experience had been similar. Had the same cancer that impaired his peripheral vision and stole his balance unlocked the photo album of lost memories?

Fascinated, I began researching the mysteries of the human brain. The first sentence in the article “The Brain Holds the Keys to Unlock ‘Lost’ Memories” particularly intrigued me: “People may permanently store memories in their brains, even if they cannot consciously recall them, according to a study by Duke University Medical Center researchers.”

Imagine that. What if the memory of every life event since your birth were stored away in your brain in full color with stereo surround sound? Every flower in 3-D? Every goose-bump-arousing caress of a cool breeze on your skin?

Only something has blocked your ability to recall events in such detail.

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My dad (left) with one of his brothers, David. Circa. 1941-42.

What if something like brain cancer or a stroke opened the floodgates? And suddenly you began to remember events you’d forgotten—with such sensory recall that you’d swear you stepped back in time?

What if you remembered something buried in the past? A mystery. A secret. Something important that could affect lives in the present. What if people were going to die if you didn’t do something?

This was the premise I couldn’t shake as the idea for my third suspense novel, which I’m tentatively calling Drone, began to emerge in degrees. Unfortunately, with my day-job editing responsibilities, I’ve had difficulty finding the time to finish this one. But letting the story sit in its juices for a while has been a good thing, I think. The story has matured. Better plot possibilities have emerged, offering a richer story with greater depth of character.

People sometimes ask me where my story ideas come from. In this case, they began with personal experience, family history, the loss of loved ones, and a bit of research. Imagination took over after that. Stay tuned for more details about Drone as I finish the manuscript . . . hopefully soon.

What about you? Does the idea of reliving lost memories fascinate you? Or scare you?

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5 thoughts on “What if Your Brain Stored Memories of Every Waking Moment?

  1. Rhoda J Blumer

    Adam, Wow, this makes me cry. So many memories.

    First it was Glioblastoma multiforme.

    Dad did talk to Taffy off and on. He would look down at the floor and say , Well, Hi Taffer, How are you do’in doggie? He called her Taffer a lot. I never had the heart to tell him that she was not there. He talked to people at work, never any one in particular but was pointing out something technical to whomever. Through it all he always knew I was there and would speak to me and never went into any memories of our life together. Two years gone and I am not too on top of his going yet. Have some rough times.

    About Grandma B. She was just staying with us over Christmas we thought. She had a mild stroke a few days before and had been discharged. We were not sure what was ahead at that time and she had a worse stroke that Christmas Eve. It was after her hospitalization for the Christmas Eve stroke that we transferred her to a nursing home.
    It was Wayne she was talking to and the conversation went on for what seemed hours to me. It was a lot of Really and Oh my or how did you do that, and how is so and so.
    At one time she was not on the phone and just out of the blue came. “Lord, give my children all a good Christmas”. And it was Christmas Eve or Day, middle of the night anyway.

    One thing in reading your article was that I think for older people things keep coming back to your mind that you probably never thought of since it happened. I am finding things from my childhood are resurfacing now and then and things about my Mom and Dad. Our brains are fearfully and wonderfully made. Won’t it be wonderful to fully understand God’s creation someday.?

  2. Adam Blumer Post author

    Sorry to make you cry, Mom. I just wanted to make sure my details were correct. It sounds like I was pretty close. Thanks. Love you!

  3. Alisha Coffey

    Since we are eternal creatures confined temporarily to time, yes, I think this is certainly possible! Maybe it’s time itself that makes us “forget” things, and the closer we get to stepping from time to eternity, the less defined those boundaries become. We won’t know for sure until heaven, but it is something to think about. Maybe when people have near-death experiences and their “life flashes before their eyes,” they are also experiencing something similar. It could be that the closer one gets to eternity, the less he is affected by time……

  4. Alisha Coffey

    Mr Blumer,

    I think this is very interesting and have often about this myself! Humans are eternal beings whose time on earth is held in the boundaries of Time. Maybe the closer we get to eternity, the weaker Time’s hold on us grows. Could this be similar to someone having a near-death experience who said that their “life flashed before their eyes?” Our lives and what we do with them have eternal meaning and value, so I’m sure that our memories fit into God’s eternal plan for us somehow. Maybe it isn’t so much a matter of “Time travel” as it is a “freedom from Time.”

  5. Adam Blumer Post author

    Thanks, Alisha. We know from Scripture that God sees all and keeps record of all. It makes sense that He surely has a “central computer” (for lack of a better term) while we have our local computers. Even when we can’t remember something, surely God can. I’ve also read that we don’t really use most of our brains. What’s there that we don’t really use? Could it be detailed data about our every moment on earth? It’s a fascinating idea, I think. You have some very good thoughts here. Thank you for sharing.

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