Whispers of Memory

Crossposted to DailyKos.

A year has passed now -- has it already been a year?

Mumsie passed away as midnight rolled the calendar from December 18th to 19th last year. It was only recently that we started to gather her things and put them away; some donated (lots of clothing), some to the trash (old mattresses and old furniture)...some things, of course, staying where they'd been for years.

The roses in the window box
Have tilted to one side
Everything about this house
Was born to grow and die

Oh it doesn't seem a year ago
To this very day
You said I'm sorry honey
If I don't change the pace
I can't face another day
        -- "Love Lies Bleeding" lyrics by Bernie Taupin

Some things just seem to need to stay a bit longer.

We've got -- and will keep -- the wonderful old quilts that Mumsie made over the years. Her comfy chair and hassock, in the front room -- that's also going to stay a while, in spite of getting on in years. Most times, it even has a throw she knitted or one of her quilts hanging over the top of it. Wifey used to sit in the chair after Mumsie would go to bed; now, she sits in the way Mumsie did, at an angle, as if ready to snooze.

We've had reminders of Mumsie crop up constantly, of course. It's not unlike one or the other of us to reminisce about her or quote one of her favorite sayings or song, or to mimic some of the more vibrant interchanges we'd had during our years of caretaking, before she had to go to the nursing home.

The dogs, too, still remember Mumsie. It's fitting, as she remembered them right up until she could no longer communicate. They were an odd lot.

Ember was Mumsie's fur-coated alarm clock. She would be waiting at Mumsie's door every morning at the same time, waiting for me to open the door and let her in to go discharge her duties. She would go in, gently stop and scratch her neck at the foot of Mumsie's bed -- the rattling of her collar appeared to be part of the routine -- and then softly leap up at the foot of Mumsie's bed and walk along edge. She'd bend over Mumsie's sleeping form and lick her face, or -- if the face wasn't accessible -- begin licking any exposed skin, usually a forearm. Mumsie would awaken with a smile, and after cuddling the little dog for a few minutes she'd rise and go to the restroom. She slept in the master suite, and had her own bathroom; the fact that she'd lived in the same room for 40+ years made going to the bathroom at night very easy.

Before Mumsie had become truly wobbly, Jack used to come into the bedroom while Mumsie in the bathroom and wait for her to come out. She would wobble out with a slow shuffle, and he'd greet her by slapping his forelegs and paws on the ground playfully. Mumsie would chuckle and protest "I can't play with you -- I'm 83 years old!" Jack would cock his head, accept the gentle rebuttal and go jump up on Mumsie's bed to wait for her to get ready for the day.

We all had routines. By sticking to the same morning routine, it was relatively easy to manage everyone. It also formed lasting memories.

We hadn't realized how much the dogs had bonded to Mumsie before she had passed. Wifey and I figured it out just a few short months ago, when took a walk with the dogs and encountered someone who triggered a few whispers of memory within all of us. It started simply enough...


Jack, the five and a half year old Alaskan Malamute, stopped cold and focused intently on the elderly woman across the road.

Something about his stance spoke of memory and recognition, mixed with a touch of uncertainty.

He turned his head this way and that, then made a tentative play-slap on the ground.

The elderly woman grinned and began wobbling toward him.

He bounced with joy and tried vainly to close the gap.

As I watched, I realized that he thought she was Mumsie, who he had not seen in the flesh for many months. The grin and the wobble appeared to confirm it for him -- he ~really~ wanted to go say hi, his tail wagging a mile a minute.

"Jack, NO!"

He relented, slightly.

"Jack, c'mon -- ~walk~...we're going to the park."

He grudgingly acquiesced, stealing glances back toward the woman on the sidewalk across the street. The elderly lady looked a tad disappointed and confused...she had an air of uncertainty, like she didn't know if she had done something wrong.

Like Mumsie sometimes looked, especially toward the end.

I grinned and smiled, hoping the effort of keeping Jack under control wasn't contorting my face strangely, and called out that he loved making new friends, but he might accidentally knock her over because he didn't know his own strength. She grinned back, a little uncertain and hinting disappointment, but with more understanding than she'd had before. She no longer looked like she was thinking of crossing the street to us.

Half an hour later, we walked back along the same area. The elderly woman was still across the street, now one house further down from where she'd been.

Again, Jack focused on her as if he was still trying to confirm the memory. He made a couple test pulls to see if he'd be allowed to close the gap, but I held him close with the leash. No go.

We walked home.

* * *

When Mumsie passed away, Wifey and I wrote a special farewell to her by passing a small pocket computer and keyboard back and forth while we sat at our favorite watering hole. In similar fashion, on the day I recorded the encounter above, I passed the computer to Wifey and she recorded her observations and thoughts in her own words, below. We got interrupted and she never finished her thoughts...but I think that, at the point she left off, that was pretty much all she had at the time. The encounter had touched both of us deeply.

* * *

I saw her before Jack did. She stood in front of the house that used to belong to the old fire chief, the house with the elaborate flowering backyard I used to sneak peeks at as a kid. Short, stout, with short gray hair, her dress billowed in the slight breeze as she stood motionless on the sidewalk, facing the other side of the road.

Ember and I stopped short as Jack lingered along the side, staring at the woman. My husband gave a slight jerk to Jack's leash, but Jack stayed still, his tail wagging furiously as he gazed at the woman.

"C'mon, Jack," my husband murmured.

Tail wagging, Jack gave a happy yelp, slapping paws on the pavement. Ember pulled me below the young dogwood, so I craned my neck to see the woman beaming at Jack. She started to totter across the lawn into the street. Jack yelped, trying to drag my husband over to meet her.

I looked up.

The woman.



Several months had passed before we noticed that the dogs both adopted a desire to sit in Mumsie's old chair. Ember's first forays into it were really unique -- she pawed and pulled and scratched to lift and push the main cushion to one side, and lay on the chair without the cushion beneath her.

That was where Mumsie used to stuff things she didn't want us to know she had.

Jack followed suit -- in terms of jumping into the chair in spite of his size, not in terms of pulling up the cushion. He didn't seem to care too much about that. When they first started getting into the chair, it was odd...we hadn't realize that they didn't do that before until they had started doing it, and even now they don't seem to get into it to lounge about the same way they do on other furniture.

Perhaps it's just projection on the part of Wifey and I, but they seem to think of the chair differently than other furniture they'll get up on. True, Wifey and I both sit in it from time to time, so they are probably picking up our scents more than any reminder of Mumsie, but still...the feeling of a different significance lingers.

Jack won't go near the toys (stuffed animals) that Mumsie had with her at the nursing home; Ember gets very somber and gives them a sniff, then a tap with her nose, and then walks away from them even now. It could be the scent of death -- Mumsie had the toys with her when she died -- or the scent of the nursing home, or other patients.

Both of them -- and both Wifey and myself -- give a start when we hear an odd noise upstairs, and all of us are in the living room together. We're still jumpy from when were all Mumsie's caretakers, of course.

Jack sometimes whines at one of the closets in Mumsie's old room, which Wifey and I have finally moved into. It's got my clothes in it now -- it could simply be that he wants to make the foot of the closet his new "malamute cave." He's like that. He likes to cover any of my clothes with his fur and dander while they hang in the closet, so he's probably just upset that he hasn't figured out how to open this closet door. My former closet was much easier -- it didn't close all the way, so he could nose or paw it open.

But still...the incident with the elderly woman reminded us that our two furry companions also lost someone special to them, even tho they'd only visited her once or twice while she was at the nursing home. They still remembered Mumsie, and different things would trigger and stir the echoes of memory within them.

We're pretty good at judging their expressions and actions; whether we project what we want or think upon them or not, we're still certain that they remember and miss Mumsie just as we do.

I still can't believe that it's been over a year now.


"...the flowers that you painted on the chair
and the cushions that you made for the chair
they make me feel like you are here
and when you go
I'd like to curl up in the arms of the empty chair

to be with you..."

- Lynne Belle-Isle and Laszlo Szijarto of naked i,1 from the song Empty Chair, March 2000




Previous and related pieces


Stir of Echoes

Musical Deconstruction of a Life's Worth of Memories




1. Many thanks to Lynne Belle-Isle and Laszlo Szijarto of naked i for taking the time to respond to my inquiry about how best to attribute the words of their song, and for their kind words.

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my thoughts are with you.  Thank you for sharing with us. 

We made it through ok.  Now on to the new year...!  :)

The only afterlife that we can truly demonstrate is the afterlife of the departed in our memories, discussions, and behaviors.  Mumsie lives on.  As for the dogs, they're wired in.  You're not projecting;)

Excellent piece.

"Furthest from him is best, whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme above his equals." Milton

Much appreciated.

The dogs certain do help us by showing that their memories and loyalties remain even after a loved one departs.