After you lose someone you love very much, it is only natural to think about that person in a very positive way. But sometimes we can go too far, and if we do, we end up with unrealistic memories.
I know my husband, Sid, was very bothered when a friend of his died, and his wife promptly turned him into a saint. Sid scolded me about that, saying, “When I go, don’t turn me into some super guy!”
Of course to me, he was a super guy. But after he died, I tried to remember those words. We are all human, and if we put someone who has left us that far up on a pedestal, it can cause problems in many different ways.
An acquaintance called me and gave me that same advice. She said after her husband died, she turned him into such a perfect person, that no one else could ever measure up to those high standards.
She was a very young widow, and in her case, she said she wasted a lot of years ignoring “some really wonderful men who were right in front of me.” Of course not everyone wants or needs to get married again after the death of a spouse, but her point was well taken. To really move on—no matter what direction your new life takes you—don’t create unrealistic memories.
Many other relationships can be affected by this also. For example, I know families that have lost a son or daughter and turned that child into a perfect human being. That can often put so much pressure on the other children to try to live up to expectations they cannot meet. It is impossible to become perfect like the deceased child supposedly was.
This can be a difficult situation for parents, too. I know a father who feels like his children do not love him as much as they did their mother, because of their lavish praise about how she was the most perfect parent in the whole world.
Friends often tire from hearing “hero talk.” No one wants to constantly be told a deceased husband did absolutely nothing wrong during a marriage. First of all, it isn’t true, and it can be insulting to others. When you brag about the fact that you had a fairy tale marriage, it belittles theirs.
I think my mother had a good approach to this. Right after my dad died, she encouraged us to remember everything about him, even the things that weren’t so wonderful. And Mother did not do this in a negative way.
Her idea was to recall his flaws or quirks with humor. We went out to dinner one night to share our memories. We talked about what a gentle, loving father he was, of course. But Dad, a military officer, was also very strict and demanding.
One time, Dad ordered my sisters and me to cancel our dates for a weekend camping trip. Apparently, Dad’s answer to distant teenage girls was to force us to participate in family time in the great outdoors. But then it rained, and he ended up with a bunch of pouting teenagers crying over ruined hair and cold, wet clothes. We were so mad we didn’t talk to him for a week. We all laughed and asked, “What was he thinking?”
I have tried to follow Mother’s lead. My niece and I like to get together and talk about Sid. She lovingly tells about things like how he was so sweet and patient with her when she was learning how to drive. Then we both giggle when we recall the fact that he was so cheap, he wouldn’t buy a new muffler. The old one literally fell off his car and even though you could hear him coming from a mile away, he took the risk of getting a ticket rather than spending a few dollars.
It is great to remember someone’s wonderful qualities. But it is even better to remember everything that made that person unique. After all, flaws, quirks and even odd or unusual habits are just part of who we are.
And, as my grief counselor so wisely put it, our loved ones would not want us to remember them with unrealistic memories. They would want us to remember them the way they really were—not perfect but close enough for us.