Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proust and Grief's Memory

               Memory is a process, not a repository. Marcel Proust

The strength of memories is that they remind us who we were and how we made it to this point. As we work through our memories, we notice patterns of behavior. We also understand the murkiness of our past more clearly.

It’s helpful to sit with friends and retell the adventures of our lives, otherwise we forget the details, who else was there, and all the side stories. I also suspect that, over time, we tend to remember past events the way we want them to exist and not the way they were. People who were there can correct us. Idealized memories do not help us figure out the way ahead. Only the truth can do that.

We did things then. We understand them now.

In the days after Evelyn’s death, an avalanche of memories filled the house. A slideshow of our life played continuously on the wall, but out of sequence.

Over the weeks, other memories came back when I opened drawers, closets, and storage boxes and saw Evelyn’s possessions, smelled her fragrance, or heard her favorite songs. Some memories appeared on their own, not tied to anything, like the trip we took to Monterey one weekend to see the jellyfish at the aquarium. I hadn’t thought about that trip in over a decade.

Yet there were large gaps where I couldn’t remember what we did or where we were. If Evelyn were here, we could jog each other’s memories and piece those events back together. 

Memories carry with them our sense of home, of belonging and displacement.

Theoretically, psychologists say, we remember everything that has ever happened to us. Details, even conversations from our childhood, are tucked away somewhere in the corners of our cerebral cortex and will return with the right stimuli. Without Evelyn’s stimuli, though, I wonder if some of our memories are gone forever and Proust is right.

Memories remind us of where we intended to go, and help us get back on track.

One afternoon, as my mother was disappearing into dementia, she began recounting stories of what I did when I was growing up. She reminded me of events I had forgotten. When she went further into Alzheimer’s, that door closed. How many of my stories are now lost?

I don’t know what I don’t remember. The gaps bother me. It’s comforting to say that I’ll remember everything eventually if it’s important enough, but I’m not so sure. I forgot where we ate and what we did on our first date until I found my notes.


Now, when any stray memory of Evelyn comes back, I write it down. Just in case.

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