Embracing Memories


It’s hard to remember. It’s particularly hard remembering those who have died. Our faculties fail us. How can so many thousands of days and millions of interactions generate so few moments of recall? And we can find it hard to get past the dark door of their death to remembering the extensive garden which was their life.

I am thinking of my mother today. We shared 18 years together, until this day in 1978. Granted a few of these were in the infant stages before conscious memory. My earliest memory was of me sitting on our kitchen floor in Oldham, whilst she taught me to tie my shoelaces before I went to school. I would not be one of those children who had to go to the front of the class to ask Miss Henderson to tie them for me. We Bottomleys were to be better than that.

The remaining 14 years before she left us are concertinaed into flashes of cameo dramas, like some fast forward film. It was that sort of childhood for us. We survived it probably more than we enjoyed it. But it was rarely dull. Some of the memories are pleasant, many are not. But as an adult I am learning to see the wider picture of why things were as they were.

Larkin expresses it better than anyone (link contains so-called adult language and please, please ignore his advice!): This be the Verse

Nobody wants misery, and nobody wants to hand it down. But it happens.

We can see things from a distance with a perspective of understanding which was impossible in the heat of the battle. The facts remain the same. The experiences remain the same. But now we can draw lines and connections between events and people and our reaction can change. This can work in many different ways. We can become furious, we can become sympathetic, we can become deeply hurt, we can become understanding, we can become resentful, we can become forgiving. We can become all of those.

And to a large extent this is our choice. How would we like our memories to be? What do we want to do with them? Hide them in a box in the attic, lay them out in a rose-tinted album, or deal with them constructively? Which will enable us to understand, move on and savour the good things without denying reality or airbrushing history? Its our choice, but I would recommend fully acknowledging and expressing the (so-called) negatives and then to finish and rest on the positives.

She was a remarkable woman and I am proud that she was my mother.

Dealing with difficult memories is never easy. We cannot change them and should not try to. They are what they are. The past was what it was. It was what we were given. It formed us and affected us deeply. So we live with results – whether we chose to or not.

But we can change what we do with our memories. And in doing so we can become better people for them. We can make the present better for ourselves and those we love and like. And we can seek to write and enjoy a more peaceful and positive future.

  3 comments for “Embracing Memories

  1. Paul H
    January 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Don’t necessarily agree with all your suggestion of “doing something” with our memories, as you say they are what they are. They behave variously with us in the sense that we don’t control when they play a part in our consciousness. They come at unexpected times and sometimes not for ages.
    You will also know that as we get older our memories of recent past fades, but the years of youth seem more to the fore, good or bad, if one can call them that. I prefer to just call them memoroies rather than categorize them, but that is me.

  2. January 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    From Elise.

    Memories….. The facts do indeed remain the same, but our memories of those facts are notoriously unreliable, even when uncontaminated by emotions. Ask two people their memories of the same event and you will get two completely different stories; each person having filtered their experience and their memories as a result of what interests them and how they see the world.

    If we add the many retellings we give ourselves of our memories and the backward bias of the meaning we give them now, they are unreliable to say the least. Even when we are certain of the facts, we still create our own narrative about what they mean and what we imagine to be the motives and intentions of others. This is what gives us what you describe; the freedom to make a present-day choice about our memories. I like how you say we can become all of furious, sympathetic, deeply hurt, understanding and resentful. I also think we can decide to take them a little less personally; certainly we can decide that they are not set in stone – or at least that our present-day reactions to them are not set in stone.

    We have our lives now, and they are constructed from the both the actual events of the past and from the meaning those events had for us. But our memories are not the events themselves. I agree with you – we can change what we do with them and how they influence how we act today, and by doing so contribute towards a different future.

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