Bursts of Memory

Bursts of Memory by Jacque Amweg, Grief Support Specialist

This morning when I walked outside my front door and smelled the cool air, a memory popped into my mind. I was instantly taken to my grandparents back yard, the narrow sidewalk that went out to the alley, the long length of grassy yard that sloped up to another level in the middle of the yard, and the “north house” they called it. It was a storage shed in the back yard that was surrounded by hollyhocks. There was a homemade, oversized swing set way in the back. I was there in the middle of it all in an instant.

I don’t know what it was that brought me there. Maybe it was the smell of grass or the feel of cool, damp air. My brothers and I spent many hours playing there, and in this present-day moment I was content in that memory. It was almost as if the smell and feel of the air that day joined me to another time and place that was pleasant for me. I enjoyed the feel of the morning and I enjoyed the memory too.

I don’t know about you, but this happens often in my life. Something reaches one of my senses. I see or smell or feel something or hear a song that brings back a feeling. It can take me back in time. I once felt a scratchy fabric on my skin and recalled wearing the long blue and white flowered dress that a friend loaned me. I wore it all day one Saturday when I was thirteen. I sat on the sidewalk and played jacks in it.

The sight of the moon through the trees has taken me back to the memory of a soft, tentative kiss. Not long ago I was dozing off and in my sleepy state was taken back to the nights of rocking my babies, dozing, and I felt the warmth of a tiny baby in my arms right then and there.

When we’re grieving, some memories that sneak up on us are what author and grief counselor, Alan Wolfelt PhD calls “grief bursts.” They can throw us into the depth of our pain and loss. Each memory can represent an empty place in our lives.

These days the memories may seem to have a sense of longing associated with them. The searching and longing can be unbearable, especially early in our grief. The desire to reconnect with an earlier time or to fill the empty places is natural. Memories pull us into these spaces.

Like my memory of my grandparent’s grassy yard, we can be taken to a good place of memory that is pleasant to remember and not painful. Even when we are grieving we can often find comfort in these memories. At those times it’s almost like we’ve been given a surprise gift of the former place and time to enjoy.
Yet memories of happy times can be painful in grief for awhile. It helps to share them in some way, talking to someone, writing in a journal or blog or creating traditions around those memories. If you would like to speak to someone about your experience please be in touch with a Grief Support Specialist.