When Memory Slips Away


Bits and Pieces

Bits and pieces of a life
Details gone away
A name or place important to me
Just somehow slipped away

Life assisted by written notes,
-A computer database.
Minutia captured in remote,
Adds color to my day.

Fine points in a chapter,
Forgotten before the close.
Thumbing back to start again
Refreshing stubborn facts.

Information grabbed, then held so tight
But somehow slides away.
Creating another empty slot
For pictures of the day.

This is not a call for sympathy,
It’s just plain old basic truths.
My memories grown weaker,
Though I depend on facts.

Over twenty years ago I suffered a paralyzing stroke. I still vividly recall being on the floor unable to move or speak, hearing but unable to respond. Luckily I was one of the first in Minnesota to be administered the stroke fighting drug – tPA (Tissue plasminogen activator) and I mostly recovered with time and therapy.

There were some residual effects, which would hang with me for the rest of my life. Minor irritants, some would say, compared to what might have been, but I learned to adapt and live with them. For other types of brain disorders the results can be much different.

For example, those who are afflicted with Alzheimers there is no miracle shot – yet! Their memory loss for now, is irreparable. I have watched as dear friends memories have faded and it is heartbreaking. The best we can give now is our support and our hope and prayers for a cure.

-Clarence Holm

Recollections Are Not Facts – Thank Heavens

20 years ago I experienced a major stroke, which left me temporarily bereft of most memory. For a brief time I floated in a world that had no children, no spouse, no language, no art, no history. It was as if I were a computer that had lost it’s hard drive.

Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and the then experimental procedure of TPA, my memories slowly returned. However it left me with a lingering suspicion of reality. I now understand just how tenuous the relationship between truth and my ability to recall truly is. In fact, during my recovery I walked the line between reality and fiction every day. I learned when facts fail, recollections of sights, smells and sounds endure.

I came away from the experience with an appreciation of facts, but still I found an even greater love of recollections with all the subtle enhancements my senses can add.

A continuing part of my recovery over the years has been to accept and appreciate my inability to remember superfluous facts. I now relish my enhanced recollections and learned to live in a world that is guaranteed to be better as it ages.

– Clarence Hom

Memories are fleeting moments here on variable loan,
They are not frozen images chiseled into solid stone.
They are the lingering taste of chocolate on the back of my tongue.
Or the warmth I felt at noon time, as I looked into the sun.

Recollections are celebrations, a party for one’s self
Heady compilations pulled from a top most shelf
The best are fragile moments pulled from our past
Colored by experience with thoughts that are often recast.

Recollections are built from history liberally enhanced by our dreams,
Memoirs of bits and pieces all exploding from the seams.
Photos stand as sentries, highly focused on the details
Memories work with senses making stories to fill our sails

Celebrate your memories sans worries of trivial facts,
Don’t sweat the story of what happened between the cracks.
Just sit back and taste the chocolate and feel the shinning sun
The best memories should always be the most fun.

I Talk To My Cats

– Clarence Holm

I talk to my cats. I admit it. I talk to my cats and sometimes they bother to listen.

I have three cats living in my home all three of which were selected by other members of the family to live there with the promise that they would be responsible for and take care of them.

So now I fill food bowls, change water dishes and scoop kitty litter for all three. If they want to go out, they come yowling to me. If they want to go out, they come yowling to me! If they want to go out, they come yowling to me!!! When they want to come in they do a window dance, pawing and digging at the glass sliding door until I notice.

Their lives have achieved a certain rhythm. Sleep, get up and ask to go outside. Sleep, eat, get up and ask to go outside. Sleep, eat, litter box, get up and ask to go outside. Sleep… The only thing that interrupts the cycle is another cat coming into the yard. Then it is all hands on deck hissing and growling at the window with arched backs and tails “poofed”.

Throughout the day they follow me from room to room, never getting too close or far away. It’s like they have a certain perimeter that they must maintain to be happy.

I guess I started to converse with my cats about 20 years ago, when I suffered a major stroke. I was, for a time, completely paralyzed, but luckily I was one of the first people in Minnesota to be administered “TPA” and had my clot dissolved before permanent damage was done. Still I spent a number of months convalescing at home, relearning to read and write along with completing some physical therapy.

During that time I had as constant companions the cats. They seemed to be drawn to me (possibly because I spilled a lot of food). Still, I really feel they truly took me under their wing and nursed me back to health.

They listened to me as I read out loud and commiserated with me as I stumbled over the words. I had to completely rebuild my comprehension in stages because of my weakened memory. First of all I could only handle one word, then a phrase. Soon I could understand sentences. As I got better, I was able to hold together thoughts long enough to finish a paragraph, which after a year or so expanded to a page, a chapter and now after many years a book. While I still would not want to be tested on any of the information I read, I get by for the most part.

Through it all the cats stood with me. They didn’t seem to care if I got their name wrong and referred to them as dogs, or squirrels or whatever was in my mind that day. As long as I would pet them, they would crawl into my lap and purr. I understood them and they tolerated me.

As I recovered the cats hung with me and the communication grew. They seemed to understand my words and respond if really needed. For my part, I became an expert at judging when it was time for everyone to take a nap (Always!) or when they wanted their food bowl topped off. (Cats can’t stand empty food bowls)

So after many years the cats & I are friends and understand each other well.

Now if only I could understand my family just as well.

Happy Birthday To Me

Originally published abt 2005

Today my wife woke me up announcing that this is the tenth anniversary of my stroke or as she likes to refer to it, “My Second” birthday.

It hard to believe it’s been that many years, the events of the day seem so fresh in my mind. I had stayed home that day because I had an intense headache. (My co-workers knew my headache had to be bad, because my wife ran an in-home daycare and the thought of me hanging around with 10 toddlers had to be an act of desperation.) I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and the next thing I knew I was on the floor, unable to get up. My wife asked me what the matter was and I realized I couldn’t speak. One of my arms decided to take on a mind of its’ own and started to swing around for no apparent reason. I had to use my other arm to grab it and hold it down. My wife tried to lift me up, but I was like a rag doll (A 250 lb. rag doll!) I can still remember 10 set of children’s eyes staring at me and asking “Are you OK?”

My wife called 911 and it seemed like only moments until the ambulance arrived. At the same time, a neighbor came in and took over the children (including one of my own) and got them out of the house, before I was placed in the ambulance.

I knew what was happening to me, I could hear and understand everything. I just couldn’t respond! None of my limbs worked, other than my right arm, which I was using to restrain my left arm from waiving uncontrollably. I was in a deep trouble! I realized that there was nothing I could do myself and I made a conscious decision to put my fate in a higher power and relaxed completely.

When I got to Waconia Hospital Emergency Room, they immediately put me though a variety of tests and x-rays. The tests revealed I had a 90% blockage of an artery leading to my brain. My doctor called my wife and pastor in. He told us about a brand new experimental treatment called TPA. It had not been used successfully yet in Minnesota, but it had great results in other states. Without the drug I would be guaranteed a life long paralysis, with TPA I had a 50% chance of recovery or a 50% chance of dying. —- It was impossible for me to give my opinion, although I knew I wanted it done. Instead, I had to listen to my wife and our pastor talk out the options about the life I would or wouldn’t have, if paralyzed. My wife decided to take the chance on TPA.

The effect of the drug was almost immediate. The first thing I noticed was that my arm stopped moving. Soon I was able to touch my fingers together. Within an hour, my speech returned, although it was slurred. It was a miracle, I had survived a major stroke and my second life was beginning. I had a lot of therapy ahead of me, but I soon found, I had a lot of friends willing to help.

After the injection the first visitor to see me was my brother Jim and his wife Jayne. They had left the office to come to Waconia to support me and my wife. Jim had complete confidence that I would recover. He never once spoke to me about replacing me at work. Even when I had my darkest days, he stood by me helping with the financial problems that accompany any major hospitalizations.

I also found that I was blessed by many friends in insurance, who took the time to send me notes, card and flowers. I remember the second day of my hospital stay, Kent Peterson from Chaska, stopped in to see me. He had brought a card for me to read. He was pretty excited to have me read it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read it, so I just smiled at him and said thanks.  That was the first time I realized that I had serious problems remaining that would require time to heal. My wife had figured this out before me, because when I was asked to name my children, I repeatedly forgot one.

I remained in the hospital for about a week and afterward I came home to continue the recovery. Within another week of being trapped in the house I was going stir crazy, luckily I got a call from Bob Comeau of Coon Rapids, offering to take me out for a drive. We drove west on Hwy 12 looking for used tractors; I had a great time going through the junk yards talking tractors. It really helped to get out and about.

During my recovery, I received many phone calls, including daily ones from Percy Ross (nationally known columnist). He made it a point to call me every day just to chat and ask how I was doing. He, by far, wasn’t the only to offer support. I had so many people helping me through my experience. There are just too many to name. I keep a scrapbook of all the cards and notes I received during that time. I still like to look it over to remember just how lucky I am to have so many good friends.

Why am I telling you this? I just wanted to let everyone know just how much I appreciated all the help I received. It humbles me to think of all the people who took time to support me, when it would have been much easier to forget about me.

To all of you that sent me cards, flowers, food and even money to help me out of my medical expenses, Thank you. To everyone that took time to visit me at my home and hospital room, Thank you. To my brother and co-workers who took over my work load, I know I can never repay you for you generosity, but at least I’d like to say thank you again.

It’s not everyone who gets a second birthday, and I want you to know I plan on celebrating it for many years.

Happy Birthday to me