Corresponding with the Dead IV
Finally, mom wrote me today to say she’d been writing to Tom and hadn’t heard back from him and was going to call him at the university. I just called her to say I’d received her note. She said the university was closed for the day by the time she made the call. I took a breath and said, “Mom, Tom died in 2009.” She asked me, “How did he e-mail me then?” I told her it must have been another old e-mail (this week she replied to an e-mail I wrote to her 18 months ago) showing up in her inbox, and suggested she look at the date on the note from Tom.
She was quiet for a moment and then said she didn’t remember previously editing the content of this e-mail, how it was so strange to lose track of his death (she did not, like I assumed she would, say, “Oh yes, that’s right, he’s gone, etc”), how puzzling this was to her, that she’d look at the date of the e-mail, and finally that she couldn’t talk about his death anymore. We switched to mild chit-chat about what we were each having for dinner.
She then reiterated that she’d look at the date of Tom’s e-mail, and again how strange it was to lose track of all of this. I suggested she could get online by opening Firefox on her computer, and typing Tom’s full name in the search bar to find his obituary. She asked, “Just open Firefox, that’s all?” We ended the conversation affectionately.
It is abundantly clear that she has no memory of losing Tom, despite the contextual reminder. This is very different from forgetting things and then remembering those things again with enough cues.