Isn’t it amazing how things stir memories? The smallest, most insignificant thing can cast your mind adrift in oceans of days-gone-by. They can tear you from an indifferent, placid present tense to an emotionally charged and tumultuous past moment filled with joy, smiles, sadness and tears – all in the time it takes for some unforeseen trigger to cross your view or whisper into your ears. There is no guard against them. They lie like hidden snipers perched behind endless grassy knolls waiting to attack.
A grieving parent knows this all too well. Soon after their child passes away it seems like there’s some endless torrent of these ‘triggers’ waiting around every corner. Every sound, every song, every TV ad, every place visited gang up to attack the senses and stir painful memories. In these early days of grief the pain caused is immense. Every memory that’s brought to the fore cuts like a knife – reminding you as it does that your beautiful little child is no longer around. They claw at your guts and sting your eyes as you wrestle with the bitter and incredible reality that now exists in your life. It is too titanic a concept to hold – that your child, your baby, your reason for living . . . is gone! You’re driving and a tune comes on the radio – you remember your child singing it . . . you begin to die inside. You shake your head and bang the steering wheel out of despair, anger, confusion and deep deep sadness. You’re watching the TV and an ad that would normally only capture your subconscious mind, rips at your heart as you remember some otherwise insignificant moment between you and your child.
All these memories are, at once, wonderful and acutely painful and there’s no separating the two. The only thing that perhaps distances the pairing is time itself. With the passing of time the grieving parent learns to gradually remove the instantaneous pain response just long enough to savour the sweeter memory – for a brief moment – before the wave of pain falls. Even if that song, ad or picture just brings a tiny smile first, it’s good. Those memories are all we have of our child and we need to be able to enjoy them – even if only for a little while.
I have found that it almost turns full circle in fact. At first those triggers were such a thoroughly painful experience, but now 27 months on, I’m finding it more pleasant than painful to be carried back to those times. They bring me back to be with him again. To hear his voice again. To see him smile and laugh again. These are all in my head of course, but they’re real. Real memories of better times. And in the absence of certainties when talking about what constitutes reality, I’ll take those memories anytime!