What Do You Do When Your Memories With Someone Who Passed Away Start Blurring?
If eat donuts wasn’t your immediate answer, then you’re like me because I chose crying when I should have chosen donuts.
There’s this Caitlyn Smith song I listened to often the first time I felt my heart crack — like really crack — because of a boy. It was 2015, I was 22 and every word of “Tacoma” made me feel like I was putting empowering distance between me and a guy who wasn’t for me.
I listened to it again the Monday after Easter this year and I smiled a bit at the irony of the lyrics, how I used them back then, and how they made sense to me now. On Easter Sunday, I woke up sad because I couldn’t remember whether an Easter tradition was from the BSWD (before she was dead) era or after my mom died. My boyfriend had been the one to bring up my memory the night before and as the sun was rising against the skyline that existed outside of the window all I wanted to do was turn to my left, shake him awake, and ask him if maybe he remembered.
When I’d told him the story the first time, had I mentioned my mom dressing me up in way too fancy dresses to go to the car show on Easter Sunday? Had I told him that it was an outing we started after I was 11 and we were searching for new traditions to replace loaded holidays?
Both could be true. I could picture my mom guiding me through New York’s Javits Center and walking through cars that I so easily became bored with, but still looked forward to every year. I could also feel us tripping over this new go-to Easter event and trying to pretend like it wasn’t replacing every other Easter tradition that had included her.
Instead, I laid there and for the first time really felt the weight of grieving being a never ending reality. I’d found it easier to make peace with the fact that I would miss her in new traditions or every time I hit a new milestone. Feeling stripped of your future with someone isn’t easy to swallow, but it comes with the territory when they die. You package their life and your future with them as an expected two-for-one deal.
It is vastly different to have to make your peace that the older you get the less you’ll remember of the past you did share.
I felt helpless on Easter morning. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to have to ask someone if my mom was a figment of my imagination in the memories I thought I had or if she had really been there.
When I recounted the episode to my therapist, I breezed past it like it hadn’t impacted me the way it did because I didn’t want to talk about it. That’s okay. You don’t always have to deal with things as they come up, sometimes they need to sit, they need to rest long enough for you to actually figure out what you’re running from.
Turns out I’m running from having to accept that feeling cheated out of a future isn’t where that narrative ends, now I have to make my peace with having to lose a shared past bit by bit. It feels unnecessary and unfair and I feel naive to have thought that it would be different.
It feels so common sense. At some point my therapist mentioned that 16 years is a long time and I think I replied with, “well, when you say it like that.”
The thing is that for as snarky as my response was, she’s right. Underscoring 16 years is the only way to say it, but it just feels so much shorter when lived. It feels like the memories should be fresh, not because time hasn’t passed but because it’s all I have left and there should be a rule somewhere that freezes them for those who survive losing someone. It should be the olive branch we’re handed by the universe.
But it isn’t. It never was.
I’m working to find the beauty in accepting that because it doesn’t mean I’m left with nothing. The visions I had of one day being able to tell my kids about my mom may not include details of specific outings or one on one moments, but it will include pieces of her. Pieces that were consistent throughout every memory, the ones that are harder to forget.
It isn’t easy to accept that the older I get, the fuzzier the memories will get.
Caitlyn Smith’s song talks about putting highway miles between her and a lover — by growing up, I’m unintentionally doing the same. I’ve put 16 years of miles between me and my mom without actively trying to. It may be hard to believe, but the weight of that truth came as a surprise to me Sunday morning.
The same way that you can’t punish yourself for someone passing away, you can’t punish yourself for changing since they did. For growing up. For your memory only being able to hold so much.
It doesn’t mean you feel less duped by how you changing also changes the way you viewed them or the things you remember. It means that growing up has added layers you never anticipated it to.