My Brain’s Vacuum Cleaner

 In Grief, Inspirational

I love what I call my brain’s vacuum cleaner. While I am sleeping, it sucks out my daytime mess and clears space for a new day.

The National Institutes of Health funded a study at the University of Rochester, NY. It concluded that sleep clears the brain of damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration via the glymphatic system. This plumbing system allows fluid to flow rapidly through the brain and flushes out toxic molecules at night according to the scientist in charge, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard. He deduced… We need sleep. It clears the brain.

This study is described in an article titled, Sleep: The Brain’s Housekeeper. It appeared in the October 18, 2013 issue of Science Magazine.

dye flowing through the brain of a sleeping mouse (Nedergaad Lab, University of Rochester Medical Center)

The article explained that sleep initiated fluid flux drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Not being a scientist and never progressing beyond basic high school chemistry, I adapted this clever scientific observation and applied it to the relief sleep gave me from my toxic grief moments.

I call it my brain’s vacuum cleaner.

I first put my brain’s vacuum cleaner to work early on in my grief journey. My device toiled vigorously when I was sleeping to reduce the day’s intense sadness. While it temporarily gave me relief, more sadness returned with the next sunrise. Once again at night, my brain’s vacuum swept up my grief remnants like crumbs from a dry cookie. Over and over the pattern continued until the good days out weighed the bad. Eventually, hope broke through and lifted my spirits.

When my raw grief settled in my rear view mirror, my concerns turned to my kids. My new status as a single parent now activated my brain’s vacuum. Without a partner, I stressed over everything. Pinewood Derby cars. Driving tests. Dating. College applications. Summer jobs. My quiet nights alone in bed invited an avalanche of concerns.

And then before I knew it, my nest was empty. Day-to-day issues in my home were gone. But now, there were long-distance worries instead. My brain’s vacuum cleaner required a longer cord. College success. Fraternity parties. Dating. New friends. Campus safety. I continued to suck out my anxieties.

The pin feathers of my darlings soon turned into strong wings. My adult children soared in search of their own nests. Marriage. Children. All good stuff. But I never stopped worrying about my brood.

Love is exhausting!  My brain’s vacuum is never idle.


2022 Ocean City, NJ boardwalk                 family picture

I never thought I would experience a pandemic. The recent appearance of COVID gave me a new layer of stress. I went to bed in fear and hoped to wake up to see that it was all just a bad dream. The uncertainty was unnerving. Invisible danger lurked in the shadows. Nothing was constant. All of this played havoc with my mind. My brain’s vacuum cleaner needed a new filter. The old one was over worked.

2020 outdoor COVID Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter Samantha’s family

As a child, I was not aware of world events, disease, politics, economics, or how my delicious meal got on the table at night. Far-off lands and unstable governments were only words in books. During elementary school air raid drills, I crouched under my desk with my eyes closed. Afterwards, I ran out to the playground and happily pumped my legs on a swing as my dress blew up with the breeze.

There was always a nickel in the floorboards of my parent’s bedroom for a  full-size candy bar at the corner store. I walked to Minnie’s alone. Stranger danger in a small town was not a thing.

        Minnie’s corner store in Ames, NY

In grade school, I followed directions and stood in line in the school cafeteria for my polio vaccine, unaware of the perils of the illness that I was being protected from. I was never over-weight and my eyesight was perfect. The only pill I took was an occasional Flintstone vitamin. I thrived in a kid bubble.

But it seems as I have gotten older, my head is full of more stuff. And all of it is not good. I now know there are bad people doing bad things. I understand the economy is a fragile dance and the lively fox trot can quickly change to a slow waltz. Twenty-four hour news coverage does not serve me well. It was better when I had to wait for Chet Huntley and David Brinkley to give me the nightly news. That way, I did not carry the world’s burden’s all day on my shoulders. I do not like to start my day seeing other countries at war and innocent people suffering. I can only hope that they too can catch some sleep at night to be given some relief by their own brain’s vacuum cleaner.

So, as an adult I have had to make peace with my intensified self-awareness and concentrate on the brightness of each day. I know my control of the world is nil. Instead, I count my many blessings. At night I thank God out-loud for my good fortune. When I can,  I try to bring lightness to someone else’s darkness.

My  brain’s vacuum cleaner continues to help me. It cleans up the chaos that invades my senior citizen days and prepares me for the gift of a brand new twenty-four hours. I trust in its power and appreciate the reset I am offered.

I hope you have a brain vacuum cleaner like mine. It tidies up my messy life.

Now, I just need a giant feather duster to flick away the periodic insanity that currently lands around me. Then, when I go to bed, my brain’s vacuum cleaner can take over and finish the job.

         Kim’s first grade silhouette


(This post is dedicated to my friend Joanne who reminds me of the power of grief. Currently, she has a front row seat on her “grief train”. She is a brave passenger.)

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