It is becoming ever more common among baby boomers: did we really say that, did we really think that, did we really do that? Writing from Los Angeles, boomer and blogger Richard Basis talks about what a lot of us are talking about: our memories, and the tricks they play these days. His best advice? Don’t forget to remember.

How often do you walk into a room to get something, but by the time you get there you’ve forgotten what it is?

Did you ever mean to tell somebody something but you can’t remember if you actually told them?

Richard Basis

Worst of all, have you ever had someone tell you something you said that you have absolutely no recollection of saying? It frightens me when people tell me I told them something years ago that they never forgot because it was so profound and meaningful, or because it was so upsetting and hurtful. No one should ever hold onto anything I say. I don’t mean half of it and apparently I don’t remember most of it.

There have been many scientific studies on why, the older we get, the more we forget. Apparently, we can decelerate the process, but there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. Contrary to current research, it seems to me that the longer we live, the more there is to remember and the more things we’re going to forget. It’s just simple math.

For example, I have trouble remembering anyone’s new phone number (including my own). I can still remember my childhood phone number, but a few years ago my head hit its maximum occupancy for that sort of information. Computer passwords have become the bane of my existence. Most of us have multiple online accounts now and each one needs its own password. (Remember when you only had to remember your mother’s maiden name?) Just thinking about every password, phone number, address, bank, alarm, and security code that I have to remember makes my brain want to throw up.

I kept a journal (some might call it a diary but I think that sounds girlie) from the time I was 19 until the time I was 49. I hadn’t looked at it since then, but on my 60th birthday I decided to read it again. It was more than 350 pages long and I was surprised by what I found. There were so many things I had completely forgotten and there were several things that I remembered completely differently from the way they apparently happened. This taught me a very valuable lesson: I can no longer be 100% certain of anything I remember. Not because I have a bad memory, but because I’m human. Now I find myself frequently using the expressions, “Not that I can remember” and “To the best of my recollection,” as if I am under oath all the time.

Did you know that we all have false memories? Especially as we get older. There’s a famous quote from Stephen King that says, “Passing time adds false memories and modifies real ones.” I have had arguments with my sister where she claims that something I remember happening to me as a child, actually happened to her. At first, I thought it was really strange that she would hijack my memories like that. Until I heard of it happening to other people and realized it is fairly common. So now I’m not so sure. Maybe it did happen to my sister. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. Maybe the world in my dreams is real and the real world is only a dream. Or maybe I’ve been watching too many old Twilight Zone reruns.

After enough time passes, even our happiest memories become bittersweet. I used to enjoy going through old photo albums with my mother. She would tell me stories of times before I was born and we would share fond memories together. But, when she got older, it started to get a little depressing. She would flip through the pages, pointing out various friends and family with her finger of death, “Dead. Dead. Dead. Dying. Dead.” Eventually, I asked her to stop doing that and suggested she only point out the ones who were still alive, since that would be a shorter list. The funny (and sad) thing is, I now find myself doing the same thing when I look at my own old photo albums.

As we get older, we depend on our memories more than ever. When we can no longer relive the experiences or revisit the people and places we love, all we can do is remember them. So hang onto those memories in whatever way you can. Write them down, take lots of pictures, and tell your stories to anyone who would like to hear them. Because your memory can be like a bad employee who you think is doing a good job, but they’re really lying to you and stealing from you the whole time.

There was something else I wanted to say on this subject … but I can’t remember what it was.


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