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December 19, 2015

Memories are our most prized possessions. They are an accounting of the milestones that have shaped our lives, allowing us to relive the most important moments. The births, the graduations and the weddings are all stored in our minds to be treasured. Each memory is an important part of the collective evidence of the life we’ve led. They are a mental transcript of all the experiences that make up our past, but most importantly, our memories keep us close to those we’ve lost.

Vivid memories can be good or bad. Some people are unfortunately haunted by events that they are unable to forget. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating condition that affects people who have witnessed or survived the very worst in life. Their dreams and thought patterns can be disrupted by images and recollections that bring back the pain of a horrific moment.

Sometimes a compelling memory is so disturbing that it cannot be suppressed, and it begins to dominate a person’s life. In severe cases it can interfere with their ability to function and cause them to lose touch with reality as they withdraw from the world. In those cases help must be sought. No one should suffer needlessly when there are treatments that can help an individual cope with tragedy and loss.

When people begin to experience the first signs of dementia it is usually the failure of their memory that acts as an early warning sign that something is not right. As the deterioration continues, their memories are often compromised to the point where they no longer recognize those who love them. This causes a level of anguish and heartache that is extremely difficult for families to deal with, and in the saddest possible way clearly illustrates the importance that our memories play in our lives. Traumatic brain injuries, strokes and tumors can also profoundly affect memory. It can be a tenuous lifelong challenge for an individual to recover the memories they had before an accident or health issue changed their life.

Because memories are so powerful, they can warm our hearts or bring us to tears. They can fill us with joy or make us grieve. The images that we retain help to define us. How we remember something makes it seem true in our minds no matter how much it has been altered over time. Our memories comprise our personal history. We can choose to share them with others or we can guard them closely so that no one else knows about them.

Our memories can actually influence our behavior and therefore play a role in determining our actions. If we remember things that are pleasant and heartwarming we feel good about ourselves, and that is reflected in our attitudes and our perspective on life. If are memories are predominately bad they can make us cynical, unwilling to trust and less compassionate.

Interestingly almost anything can trigger a memory. A sight, a sound, an aroma or just a feeling that sweeps over us can cause us to spontaneously remember something meaningful that we had long since forgotten. Such is the beauty of our minds. Perhaps memories are always there just under the surface waiting to be brought up to our consciousness in some way.

Fortunately memories from our past can be used to assist us in the present. When we are faced with a particular issue or challenge we can recall another time when we had to be courageous or willing to take a chance. We can think back to other successes that we’ve had in order to build our confidence for the current task.

The majority of our memories are made up of the common occurrences that we are all familiar with. However, it’s often the small quiet moments that end up being the most important, even though we may not appreciate them at the time. We naturally tend to focus on the momentous occasions that are documented with photos and video and yet in the end it is the seemingly insignificant things that hold the most meaning for us. A sincere compliment that was shared when it was needed most, a gentle act of kindness that was completely unexpected or a warm embrace when a hug conveyed far more than words could say, these are the things that we remember because they let us know that someone cared.

Thankfully we do not have to wait for a memorable moment to randomly occur. At any time we can choose to be proactive and take the necessary actions to create situations and circumstances that have positive effects on others that they will remember. That is why it is so important to make thoughtful memories whenever we can. By showing concern and compassion we can create moments that people will never forget. All that is required is a willingness on our part to think of someone else.

Of course our most heartfelt memories are created around those we love and care about, and they become increasingly important with the passage of time. We value them because they represent points in our lives that we can never return to. People and places change. We move forward leading us into new relationships and situations, but through our memories the past is never really lost. It is there for us to recall and to enjoy whenever we wish.

However, it is when death claims someone we love that our memories become most precious. Although they are no longer physically present we can embrace our mental images and the strong emotion we have for that person and still feel close to them. In that way they continue to be a part of our lives. We can remember the sound of their voice, we can hear their laughter and in our mind we can see their smile. A beautiful memory of a loved one is like a recording that can be replayed as often as needed. It is a gift they leave with us so that we will not forget them.

Someday we will come to the end of our own lives, and our legacy will be the memories that others have of us. It is up to each of us to live in such a way that those memories will be cherished and treasured.