Our memories, in many ways, are a storehouse of who we are. Remembering past events tells you something about who you are. We widow-men face practical issues of memory: our ability to remember names, appointments, and where we have left things. There are also memories that we want to keep: mental pictures of scenes we shared with our wives when they were here. Memory and memories make up much of who we are.
Forgetfulness comes with the confusion we widow-men feel. It’s hard to remember what we said to each person recently, and we might forget appointments. We may forget where we put something in the living room or kitchen. I often spend time looking for things that I have lost due to forgetfulness.
In the first few months of my widowhood, I sometimes wondered if I was becoming senile. Was it the onset of Alzheimer’s, I wondered? But then I realized I was experiencing shock due to my wife’s death, not dementia or Alzheimer’s.
If you are an “older man,” maybe over sixty, memory losses may worry you a lot. When you forget something, remember that your mind is working hard behind the scenes, and it may neglect to remind you to do even some basic things. Remembering to do simple tasks may require conscious thought for a while.
When your wife died, you did lose part of your memory: the role that she always took care of. She reminded you of names, meetings, birthdays, and how to tuck in your shirt. You lost a large part of your sentimental memory bank as well. I often wish I could share a memory with my wife; she is the only other person who might remember and care about specific events.
You can enjoy some of those sentimental memories just by thinking about them, and you can store them to remember again by writing them down. Thoughts and memories, even valuable ones, are transient and disappear quickly if not written down.
I take lots of notes and make lists to make up for losing my wife’s reminders. These lists help keep me on track as I go through the day, and they remind me of what I have accomplished when I feel I have done nothing. Because I like lists, sometimes I even add something to a list after I have done it, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list. You have some new tasks now, without your wife. Written lists may make up for some of that loss.
I not only forget some essential things, but I also tend to avoid some of them. I tend to avoid financial matters, home maintenance, lawn upkeep, and car repairs. I sometimes avoid or delay unpleasant meetings or phone calls. Some things may seem more emotional now without her. Avoidance can be as risky as forgetting.
We won’t always remember everything we want to remember. We may not remember to write down all the things we should. But most of our forgetting is forgivable. Be honest with yourself about the systems that can assist your memory. Your mind is working hard in your new life. Give it all the help you can.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org