Memories and Grief


by Dr. David Knapp, PhD

It has been said that time and memories are the griever’s friend.

In the weeks after my first wife died, I became very concerned that the people would forget Ruth. I did not want that to happen because I knew I would not forget her. My mind was full of memories of her. So, I began thinking of ways to memorialize her life. In addition to talking about her with others and having pictures of Ruth around the house, I wrote an article for a magazine about her short, courageous life. Much to my relief, it was published.

Yet my memories of her went far beyond an article or a picture. I remembered how she felt and what she sounded like. My memories were often flooded with events and people we knew together. Sometimes a song or smell would trigger an explosion of emotion that related only to her. Occasionally a swelling of the hurt of missing her accompanied the memory. Other times I would recall intimate moments when we were alone or even in the bedroom. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should dwell on those memories now that I was single. And then there were the negative memories when we disagreed or said hurtful things to each other.

Wrestling with memories during the grieving process is normal and, in most cases, a must for healing to be complete. In the early days of grief, the warm memories were a huge comfort. However, as time progressed, I found the negative memories to be the most difficult to “put to rest.” I would feel either the guilt or anger from that event all over again, which would complicate my grief. I found that facing all my memories with honesty and truth was the best practice.

In the days and months following my second wife’s death, I put a picture of Judith in every room of the house to make me feel like she was still there. Eventually, I began to put them away one by one as time went on. Again, however, I was concerned about her memory being preserved somehow. We had 23 grandchildren when she died. So I put together a Grandma picture book for each of the grandkids. 

My four decades of memories streaming from two wives now flooded my thoughts day and night. And I noticed a commonality. I had a whirl of memories only my wife and I experienced together. NO ONE else on the planet knew about the event or conversation that we alone shared. That realization made me feel very alone in the world.

There are so many ways to remember a loved one following their death. Some, however, try to dismiss their memories from their minds erroneously, thinking it will relieve pain. I would not recommend that. Memories can help heal. They are a part of who you are now.

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