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Short and Sweet Summary: When the flashbacks of your dead spouse start to fade and you feel like you’re losing memories, don’t panic. You’re not forgetting your spouse because you know that’s not even possible. Your brain is just forcing you to change the channel on the 24/7 grief show and discover some new programming.
How long has it been since your spouse died?
Do you feel like you’re forgetting more and more about your previous life? Are the memories harder to recall and you’re scared that one day you won’t remember the specific details about the person you loved more than anything in the whole wide world?
This is GOOD.
When the flashbacks of your dead spouse start to fade and you feel like you’re losing memories, don’t panic. You’re not forgetting forever and ever because you know that’s not even possible. I’m sure you’ve already experienced memories popping up in the weirdest ways when you least expect it, anyway. So, really, your memories never completely go away.
Your brain is just forcing you to change the channel on the 24/7 grief show and discover some different programming.
I’m going to share with you why it’s OK to feel like you’re losing memories and what to do about it when you do.
Your heart and brain are battling for your attention
Your heart and brain are sometimes (or almost always in my case) at odds with each other. Your analytical, ego-driven brain is hungry for facts and rationalizes the shit out of everything. It wants to know why you’re forgetting important details and it wants to know right now.
But your heart? Your softer, wiser heart relies more on feelings than facts. It operates with common sense and levelheadedness.
When your brain says, “You fool! How dare you forget about the sound of his voice!” or “I can’t believe you don’t remember the name of his doctor who was almost like family!” it’s judging you.
Or rather, you are judging you.
However, your heart isn’t judging you. It’s saying, “wow, you went a whole day without thinking about your grief! Amen, sister! You really needed that break to offset some of the heaviness of grief you’ve been carrying around for far too long.”
See the difference?
The brain judges but the heart understands.
When you start forgetting memories of your loved one it’s not a bad thing. It’s your heart’s way of allowing you to detach from grief. It’s about time, don’t you think? The heart tries to drown out your brain’s constant refrain of, “don’t forget one more thing you ungrateful ninny!” with a compassionate plea for some damn peace.
Your heart knows you’re not forgetting. It knows you won’t ever forget. It just wants you to take a break once in a while from the constant loop of regurgitating grief.
Stop being so hard on yourself
Don’t you have enough to deal with without getting all Judgy McJudgerson on yourself? If you went one day without thinking about your grief, I applaud you. It’s a cause for celebration!
Remember, no one is judging you. Except you.
When you move forward with your life (because you’re still alive, remember?) it’s not uncommon to feel extreme guilt for forgetting parts of the past that your spouse occupied. But guilt is a motherfucker. And a liar. It serves no purpose other than to make you feel bad.
So stop being so hard on yourself. Forgetting grief isn’t forgetting your spouse. Going a day or two or a week without remembering doesn’t mean you’re losing memories forever.
It just means you’re storing them away for safekeeping to bring out once in a while instead of allowing grief to be center stage all day every day.
Be grateful you’re living in the moment
Moving forward isn’t “moving on,” OK?
Moving forward is respecting that you’re entitled to live in an emotionally positive way. And that means giving yourself a break from grief.
You know you’ll never forget your spouse. That’s impossible. But what is possible is living in the moment, living for today, instead of remaining a prisoner of your past. This is when you get to focus on your job, family, garden, church, theater group, travels, or whatever keeps you satisfied. Whatever you’re happy doing that isn’t grief-related.
If you feel like you’re losing memories it means you’re turning a corner. It means you are healing. It does NOT mean you’re forgetting your spouse.
Don’t berate yourself for losing memories. Give yourself kudos for your natural progression away from so much grief.
Be wary of those who “never” forget
If you spend any time at all with other widows either in person or on social media you’ll hear variations of the following:
“I’m 12 years out and I remember all the details because there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about my husband.”
“I’ll never let myself or my kids forget because we talk about their father every single day.”
I know people mean well, but it’s important not to take everything everyone says literally. I’m sure the widowed mom talks with her kids about their father quite a bit, and I’m sure the widow who’s X years out thinks about her husband a lot.
But words like “every single day” and “never” aren’t realistic. Of course, you’ll forget the details. You’re not a robot designed to retain millions of data bits to pull out at a moment’s notice. And maybe you talked about your spouse every day in the beginning but the conversations are more intermittent these days.
Please be wary of other widows who talk in unrealistic absolutes.
Besides, you shouldn’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle and vice versa. You’re on your own path. Let it lead you where you need to go. In your timeframe. Meeting your needs.
Practical Tips to Retain Memories
If you’re feeling bad for forgetting memories (which you totally shouldn’t) here are a few ways to keep your memories within arm’s reach.
Create a movie
I’m sure you’ve got photo albums galore, but have you ever created a movie using a compilation of special photos, video clips, and mementos?
You can create movies with titles, transitions and special effects using Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie. Add pictures, video clips, and even background music to complete a one-of-a-kind keepsake.
Store the movies on your phone or computer to play whenever you need a walk down memory lane.
Create a shadow box
A shadow box is a super simple way to display memorabilia without needing any artistic ability whatsoever.
Simply gather your most beloved memories, whether it’s movie tickets, ceremony programs, invitations, pictures or other mementos and pin them to the shadow box background. You can get as detailed or sparse as you want and organize using whatever space you can on the shadowbox background.
As an added benefit, the shadow box keeps your valuable items free from dust and debris thus prolonging their lifespan.
If you choose to go the shadow box route, make sure you pick up some extra pushpins.
Journal random thoughts and memories
You could journal random thoughts and memories without the stress of creating an organized journal or keepsake book. Journaling random thoughts means all you need is a notebook or online document.
After my husband died, I started writing random thoughts and memories in a Google Docs document I called “Short Notes.” The last time I checked it was 55 pages long! So, not really “short” anymore because I didn’t realize when I started it that I’d still be entering these random thoughts so many years later.
You can start now. Start wherever you are in your journey. It’s shocking to read some of my earlier entries and compare what was going on years ago to what’s happening in my life now.
If you start journaling your random thoughts and memories today, you’ll be surprised to look back at all the twists and turns on your own grief journey.
Write letters to your spouse
If random thoughts are your thing, sit down monthly or even yearly and write a letter to your dead spouse. Tell him everything you’re going through and all that you’ve experienced since his death.
Sometimes your writing might be nice. Sometimes it might be mean. Just tell him everything that’s going on. I write a letter to my husband every year on his death anniversary. In some letters, I’ve cursed him for leaving me here to deal with the shitty aftermath of his death. Other letters are more pleasant and reflect on the good things that have happened since he died.
Tell him how you’re afraid to forget him, and then list the memories you remember at that moment. This is a good way to get your memories out of your head and onto paper.
When you start feeling bad about forgetting, read the letters and reminisce.
Participate in (or start) a fundraiser in your spouse’s name
One surefire way to keep your husband’s memory alive is to participate in a yearly fundraiser in his honor.
By walking or running or biking with like-minded people, you’ll honor your husband’s memory and do good for the organization of your choice at the same time.
Google your topic + fundraiser + near me to see what’s available in your geographic location. For example, if I Google “Lung cancer fundraiser near me” or “Brain cancer fundraiser near me” Google returns at least 5-10 events. I’m sure lots of options exist near you for you to find ways to honor your spouse.
If you can’t find a fundraiser to participate in, consider starting your own. The Fundraising Authority provides a Beginner’s Guide to Fundraising that outlines the basic knowledge you need to get started with raising money for any non-profit organization.
Widow Wrap Up
It’s startling the first time you realize you went a day without thinking bout your dead spouse. Your first instinct is there must become thing wrong with me, but please stop berating yourself.
You will forget details. It’s OK. You’re human. And you shouldn’t live in the grief abyss forever. When the memories start to fade, don’t panic. Your recollections aren’t fading away into obscuring.
You’re just storing them away for safekeeping to bring out once in a while instead of allowing grief to be center stage all day every day.