When we remember

April 30, 2013

writing in a journal

Would you remember your best friend's birthday if you didn't have it written down? Could you call up details of the day your son was born or your brother celebrated his 30th if you didn't have photos or hadn't kept a journal? Probably. But it turns out the act of creating and maintaining these close relationships is the very thing that can keep our minds sharp.

According to a recent O, The Oprah Magazine article from author Emma Haak, Australian researchers tracked the social behaviors of 700 people over 15 years and found that people who maintain more close friendships scored better on memory tests. Apparently the regular contact engages the problem-solving regions of your brain (Haak gives props to book club debates and talking a friend through a crisis, but it seems this would apply to any close relationship. Parenting together, shopping with your five year old, planning holidays with your mother-in-law…can you say 'problem solving'?) Peter Snyder, PhD and chief research officer of the Lifespan Hospital System in Rhode Island goes on to say 'It's important to be socially connected from a young age so that the lifestyle patterns you develop become ingrained. We've found that when people prioritize these relationships, they also protect their brain function. Interesting.

holding hands

So when we set aside special days of remembrance - when we mark these occasions with shared meals, holding hands, parades, a chick flick together, prayers or a whole host of personal traditions - we in essence are helping ourselves remember more than the date. We're teaching ourselves (and those around us, including our kids) how to have healthy relationships and how to appreciate and celebrate them. We're encouraging our abilities to recall important images, words and feelings from the past.

We spend time with mom and remember the red wrap dress she wore to our sixth grade graduation. Or how we cried into it three hours later over a raging case of unrequited love. This memory can come flooding back, for better or worse. We remember her tenacity, her perfect hair or the way she still (always) lets you stop hugging first.

veterans

And since 1950, we've set aside the third Saturday in May to honor Americans who serve in the Armed Forces (Armed Forces Day). Each of us likely has a connection to someone who has or is currently serving. Asking them to share more about what they do, how they've trained, the experiences they've had can give them the chance to recount strong memories and to feel your support. The act of hearing their memories can strengthen our own. It also happens to be a great way to strengthen a relationship.

The last Monday in May, Memorial Day, marks the remembrance of US soldiers who died while serving their country. History books give us the facts, but personal relationships tell us who these people were. Not only how they died, but how they lived. We know this, the more intimate details of their personalities and life ambitions because we pass on their memories-our memories-from person to person. We are each others' memory keepers.

And when we pause to reflect and remember our moms, to commemorate the men and women serving in the Armed Forces or the ones who have fallen in battle, we are preserving our memories…as well as theirs.

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