The Courage to Remember

One of the lies we’ve been told about grief is that we should put the deceased out of our minds to keep from being so sad, but the truth is that it’s important to remember . . . anything.

Carrie Jane Knowles, author of the soon-to-be re-released memoir, The Last Childhood (a book about the impact her mother’s Alzheimer’s had on their family), wrote a blog today: Art as an Act of Memory. She talks about the devastating effects of not being able to remember even the simplest things, and mentions a far-flung theory she’d read that Alzheimer’s patients developed the disease because they wanted/needed to forget.

Of the four of us, I’m the only one still living.

I am not a believer in blaming the victim for a disease, but this particular idea has merit. We spend most of our lives burying that which is too painful to remember, whether the memory of loved ones lost to death, world-wide tragedies, wars, deprivations, abuse, that it seems impossible so much buried pain could leave us unscathed.

As Carrie Knowles says, with all the “tragedy we’ve witnessed in recent years, what chance do we have of not developing Alzheimer’s? How will we have the courage to remember?”

Courage. So much of life is about courage, about living despite the tragedy in our lives, about remembering no matter how much sorrow it brings us.

Philosopher Eugene T. Gendlin wrote: What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don’t know this. They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change.”

At times I’ve felt strange about continuing to write about the effects of the death of my life mate/soul mate five years after the fact, but from the beginning, I knew it was important to feel whatever I was feeling. Not that I could have buried the feelings — I don’t have that sort of discipline — which is just as well.

I am starting my life from scratch, or at least mostly from scratch. I’ll have a storage unit full of things that I can’t yet get rid of, a brain full of fading memories, a soul full of old sorrows, and a psyche that will always feel the absence of the one person who connected me to the earth. And I’m okay with that. What I wouldn’t be okay with is if any of those things held me captive. I have a world to explore, adventures to embark upon, experiences to savor. My moments of sorrow will only add piquancy to my future if I continue to have the courage to feel and the courage to remember.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

7 Responses to “The Courage to Remember”

  1. sumalama Says:

    You have all the courage you need, Pat. You are an incredibly courageous person.

  2. leesis Says:

    you are more truly human than you have ever been before Pat. Because you have allowed yourself to grieve you carry pus free scared but ultra-sensitive wounds and mixed memories that enrich rather than detract from your ability to enjoy life. xx

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It is weird, though, having the two trains of thoughts/emotions lying side by side. The joyful/enriching train running side by side with the sorrowful/questioning. It will probably always be so, though I the second train might become fainter as time goes on.

  3. kencoffman Says:

    It’s takes a lot of courage (a better word might be discipline) to face things as they are. We’re incapable of doing this 100%, but we can always try. How I wish I could take solace in religion or philosophy or hell, a needle or bottle if it meant I could live in a more just and fairer world. I can’t help but wish you well, because you’re blazing a trail and are simply a few years ahead of some of the things inevitably coming for me–for us who are following your trials and challenges. I can’t express how passionately I hope you achieve a state of grace because I selfishly cling to hope that if things work out for you, they can work out for me too. The bottom line is we’re all rocketing toward the same place. We can close our eyes, but the journey continues. Maybe it doesn’t matter much how we get there and we’re torturing ourselves for nothing. I have sympathy for the preacher or guru who doesn’t really believe the words, but says them anyway because of their palliative results on the flock.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Many people believe it is religion and/or a belief in a higher power that makes us behave kindly towards our fellows, and yet I believe the opposite — that it is a belief in our fellows that makes us behave kindly toward a higher power, even if that higher power is our own innate generosity of spirit. It’s the dance of life that is important, not the performance for the god audience, but simply the dance — learning, moving, experiencing, journeying to find the truth within. I’ve come to believe in the Catechism of my childhood, “What is God? God is Everything.” We are the sensory cells, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching the Universe. We are how whatever “God” might be expresses itself, creates itself, feels itself. Pain and comfort, sorrow and joy are all the same — just expressions of the Universe. Whether our godness has a separate consciousness after death, I have no way of knowing, but I am learning to celebrate whatever I am now. No past, no future. Just me, today, sitting at the computer smiling at my pretensions.

      • kencoffman Says:

        And, in the end, we’ll let the ashes fall where they may. Those words have more effect knowing the author had a serious health scare recently and came through a diminished man. So it goes.

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