Monday, June 27, 2016

Memory Doors: Are Your's Open or Closed?

Today I'm on the red-eye flight back from the west coast where I've been visiting some of my kids for the last week. Since I dare not write in my sleep-deprived state I'm posting the following piece. I wrote it a few years ago but it still applies today. How do you handle grief and memories?--Please add your comments. Your participation and the words you write are the most important element of this blog! No one person--certainly not me--can express all the individual facets of life, love and widowhood. I hope to hear from you soon.

When I walked through the door on my very first visit to the only grief support group in my area (this was after I'd already been widowed a full year), the air was so heavy I had to catch my breath. It was like memories weighted the atmosphere and almost crushed me. But I went back each week, hard as it was,  and we slogged through the heaviness, leaned into those memories, rode out the waves of grief. And then, finally, the air lightened after a few weeks. Faces brightened. We started to remember more than the pain. We remembered the life, the goodness, the love. Choosing to remember and choosing to face those memories, became a way to deal with the pain.

But some individuals and cultures deal with grief by choosing to forget. Its like they shut the door to that period of life; take the pictures off the walls, get rid of all the person's belongings, start dating right away. . . I once read the story of a man who escaped the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, Africa in the 1990's. The way his culture grieves is called gusimbura: you don't talk about the dead, you don't name them. You're reminding people and it's not acceptable.

How about you? . . . What do you think? Are you a rememberer, or a forgetter when it comes to grieving? I'm not asking if one is right and the other is wrong. Something tells me there's probably a time and a place for both. But, are you naturally inclined towards one or the other? Does one of these styles of grieving come easier to you than the other? Talk it through here in the comment, with your Lifeboat group, or print this out and take it to your neighborhood or church group. How do you feel about memories? Our culture usually insists we must grieve "properly" or it'll come back to bite us. But what's "proper?" Sometimes it's OK to put those pictures in a box and put it in the back of the closet. What plans or traditions do you think will help you?

Tributes are important for many people, so here on the WCP is a Memorial Wall. It's getting pretty long now, so each month, on the first Monday, each month's tributes appear as a blog post. It's a lasting tribute to your love, it helps others feel they're not so alone, and others will use it to pray for you. If you'd like to include your tribute too, please use these instructions. Once I receive your info, I'll post it as soon as I possible can.


  1. Hi Ferree - Guess my grieving style is more apt to remember. It is two years now since I have lost Ron, and the memories bring more comfort than they did at first. Even when the memories and loss bring tears, there is usually a smile as well as I recall my love. I would find it difficult not to be able to speak about him. I am just so happy when my two granddaughters (aged 12 and 4 when he died) talk about their memories of Ron and share that with each other. The thought that they might not remember him was a special sorrow, so this fills me with joy.

  2. I wonder what the widows of Rwanda think of the gusimbura! It sounds like something I read about the pagan/animist way of dealing with death: if you speak of the dead, they will be disturbed and not able to rest--maybe even malevolently haunt you or your village!

    Our culture is bad enough, with people watching you to see if you've "moved on," or being so curious about whether you're going to keep on living "in THAT house, way out there!"

    To me, the widow's journey is one of reconciling our memories and surroundings with the Truth. An example: Three weeks before his Homegoing, my stroke-afflicted husband had a really good week, and even climbed our mountain with his son and I. I left his hiking poles by the front door for a couple months, to remember that wonderful event. Then I realized that God's Truth is that he's healed and complete right now and in the presence of God--putting my memory of that last rally (precious though it will always be) into an eternal perspective!

  3. Dear Linda and Susan,

    The positive attitude about your memories provides wonderful examples and role models that show what God can do when we recognize this grace displayed in the moments He provided during those treasured days. What a delight, Linda, to have your granddaughters freely talk about Grandpa Ron. They've obviously been loved well and nurtured well through this loss, and I'm sure you've been a wonderful influence on them. What a wonderful legacy you are building!

    And Susan, thank you for adding further insight about the animist way of dealing with death. It makes sense, and especially contrasts the freedom from fear that faith in Christ provides for those who know Him. Your words make me so grateful for His love and truth. Another "a-ha!" moment for me was your example of
    "... the widow's journey is one of reconciling our memories and surroundings with the Truth." It was such a privilege for me to meet you, learn about your amazing husband, and see so much of the work of his hands, the legacy of his life, and how his love for you continues to be evident in both an earthly and eternal perspective.
    Both you and Linda make me think that yours' is a house that love built. Deep joy and gratitude co-exist in the midst of loss, and they are beautiful.


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