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Stories

Caregivers: Caring for Memories

Raeann LeBlancRaeann G. LeBlanc, DNP, ANP/GNP-BC, CHPN, University of Massachusetts AmherstRaeann G LeBlanc is an Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Professor, and Researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Raeann can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 413-545-6630 if you would like to discuss this topic or share a question or idea.

When we think of caregiving, the action of giving and receiving care, we might think of tangible care: providing a bath, medical care, transportation. But what about caring for memories, as an act of caregiving and care of the caregiver?

Arthur Kleinman, notable scholar, and medical anthropologist at Harvard University, asks just that in a paper published in The Lancet (2016) entitled “The Art of Medicine: Caring for Memories.” In this paper, Kleinman shares his experience caring for his late spouse for several years through the courageous journey of dementia caregiving. Kleinman navigates his experience and the importance of our memories and their meaning in the presence of life changes and loss. Memories are a form of care in themselves, as Kleinman states:

“For those of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one, it is not just that we remember in order to conjure back that partner, parent, or child—though it surely is this too. We seem to need to remember so as to project or reaffirm key meanings in our lives. We remember to recreate meanings that sustain us, that help us to endure.”

Moody photograph of a girl standing near a treeIn early May, I lost a family member to dementia. Going back into old photographs, I found pictures of my Aunt Joyce as a young person of about 11 years old, standing beneath a modest tree, with a big open sky. The photo emphasized her size next to this growing tree. Though she lived many miles from this original home when she died, this large tree still stands at the home where I was born and where her sister, my mother, still lives. The image of the tree connects our generations, holds constant over years of much change and loss, and conjures up more memories and caring.

Kleinman emphasizes that the work of remembering is also the important and valuable work of caregiving.

“The work of remembering and the time spent ordering, reordering, and living through memories, when it relates to those who have died, is a continuation of the caregiving we provided when they lived. Caregiving, viewed this way, doesn’t end with the death of the care receiver. It goes on during bereavement; in fact, bereavement is caregiving. And it lasts long after the psychophysiological symptoms of grieving have stopped bothering us.”

Next time you find yourself remembering, consider you are caring for a memory and recognize what is “usually silent caring.” If you are interested in being part of a future project on memory sharing for caregivers, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For a full copy of the article cited in this paper, it may be retrieved from: Kleinman, Arthur. 2016. “The art of medicine: caring for memories.” The Lancet 387 (10038): 2596 - 2597.