Memory and Habit

It seems as if I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for things, not just photos (as I mentioned yesterday), but physical items. The latest thing I’ve been searching for is a wrought iron hook for hanging plants that had been attached to the ramp when I moved here. I took it off when I painted the ramp and then forgot all about it. I found it again last year when I was putting things away in my new garage, and I placed it . . . somewhere. I remember putting it where I would intuitively look for it, but it has disappeared, so either my intuition isn’t working, I accidentally threw it away, or it’s in hiding. It’s not a major issue except for the time I spent looking for it because I’m probably going to order a new one to match the two I put up last year. And anyway, the time I spent looking wasn’t really wasted because as I looked, I was able to rearrange and clean the part of the garage where my contractor had stored supplies, unused building materials, and some of the tools he’d been using.

But it irritates me all the same. I used to pride myself on my memory, but episodes like this tell me it’s no longer a source of pride. I’m just grateful I can still remember most of what I want to remember!

It’s also frustrating to misplace small things like that hook because in recent years I’ve gotten in the habit of putting things away in the same place I got them from so that they are always where I can find them. Before that, I wasn’t particularly careful — messes didn’t bother me, and if they did, I’d simply immerse myself in reading and voila! No mess. It’s sort of like that old conundrum: “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?” In my case, though, it was more a matter of “if your house is messy and you don’t see it, is it really messy?”

I shouldn’t feel too badly about the hook; after all, it wasn’t something I used and then didn’t put back in the right place. There was no right place. It was a one-time deal.

It is a reminder, though, that when one’s memory doesn’t work as well as it once did, then habit becomes especially important.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Owing His Memory?

I found this paragraph in a book I read recently, and it’s a graphic example of why I want to write a novel about a grieving woman — so few understand the nature of grief:

Jean-Pierre was gone; nothing could bring him back, and her feelings for him, feelings that had risen suddenly, had been ebbing just as quickly as evidence of his involvement with illegal drugs had surfaced. If Jean really had been running drugs, she owed his memory nothing.

Owed his memory? What does that mean? This example seems to have been written by a person who knows little of grief. In all these months of steeping in the world of grief, I have not heard a single person mention owing the dead person’s memory anything.  Memories are all we have left and we treasure them, but we also know that memory is not a living creature to whom we must pay homage. We might feel obligations to those who are gone, obligations such as honoring their wishes as to funerals and disbursement of treasured possessions, but we fulfill those obligations out of love and because we find comfort and continuity in still being able to do things for our loved ones. But owing the memory we have of the person? Doesn’t even make sense.

We bereft are all struggling to find a way to live with the hole in our lives, with the ongoing sadness, with the reality that grief is an unending (though perhaps diminishing) journey. No griever I have met has said, “Wait! I can’t be happy. I owe too much to his memory.” Grieving is a process, something we do, something that happens to us, but it is seldom the choice that is hinted at in the above example. Quite frankly, we are all sick of grieving, of being sad, but the only way not to be sad is to have our loved ones back with us, and since that is impossible in this world, we continue on as best as we can with our shattered lives. But we owe that to ourselves, not to his memory.