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.
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.
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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