“I learn something from my mother every day,” I told my husband. The statement surprised me. Maturity, grief knowledge, and new coping skills may have prompted this statement. Whatever the reasons may be, the statement is true. What have I learned from my mother? This question takes me back to childhood.
My mother often said, “The good fairy isn’t coming.” When she said this, she was trying to tell me I was responsible for myself. The good fairy wasn’t coming to rescue me. Relatives and friends may help, but in the end, problem-solving is up to me. In recent years, I’ve heard my mother’s voice in my mind many times, repeating this saying.
Another one of my mother’s saying was, “You have to be kind to people.” Certainly, she practiced kindness. One memory stands out clearly in my mind. An elderly woman was walking up the hill past our house, and became short of breath. My mother saw her, went out and asked her to rest in a chair on our small porch. She brought the woman a cold drink. If memory serves me right, the woman sat there for a half hour, talking to my mother, and went on her way.
“Finish what you have started,” was another of my mother’s sayings. As a child, I had a tendency to start many projects and not finish them. Even though I was about eight years old when my mother told me this, I knew she was right. So from then on, I tried to finish a project before starting a new one. Memories connect me with my mother and that’s a good feeling.
But not all memories are pleasant. I have some troubling memories, and chances are you have them as well. Still, we can learn from these memories. Pauline Boss, PhD, author of Loss, Trauma, and Resilience, says the process of finding meaning in memories is slow and we need to be patient. “Rituals are designed to help people find meaning in loss,” she continues. You have the option of reviving old rituals or creating new ones.
Vamik D. Volkan, MD and Elizabeth Zintl discuss memories in their book, Life After Loss: The Lessons of Grief. They think bereaved people conduct “a slow-motion review of their connection” with the deceased. Fond memories can boost spirits, whereas painful memories can make you feel sad again. Maybe this isn’t all bad. I made a conscious decision about bad memories and vowed not to repeat them. This decision has served me well and shaped my life.
In his book, Living when a Loved One Has Died, Rabbi Earl A. Grollman includes a section about Recovery and Growth. “You may not have completely regained your balance,” he observes. “Yet life continues.” We may have activated our resilience, faced our own mortality, see and live in the world differently. “You gain insights that had previously escaped you,” Grollman concludes. Memories can contribute to this insight.
Memories of my mother’s sayings nudged me forward on the recovery path and I’m grateful for them. Review your memories and focus on the best ones. Let your memories comfort you, energize you, lead you forward, and bring you peace.