You lose the only person who shared your childhood and your growing up, the one who has so many of the same memories you do.
When you lose someone, people tell you that you will always have your memories, and in a large way that’s true. But in other ways it isn’t true.
A memory shared is a memory enhanced; in talking about it, each person adds things the other forgot, adds his or her own point of view on it. A memory no longer shared is half lost.
And when, on top of that, you lose your only remaining parent to dementia, the damage to the past is multiplied. There’s no one now to whom I can say “Remember that candy store in Chicago Heights and how we used to have to go through a tunnel under the street to get there? Remember the ice cream place where the scoops were square-shaped? Remember when we moved to Rhode Island, and how I couldn’t imagine that there was any place that wasn’t in Illinois? Remember?” Now I remember alone.
Had I known about these photos before my mother became ill, maybe we could have talked about them. I could have asked her why my father saved them. If he had ever talked to her about what he had seen. She always forgave his outbursts when they occurred; did she instinctively understand what those covered-up and unshared memories might have been doing to him?