Photo credit: Deirdre Prins- Solani / Cape Town

Memory & Remembering

Remembering can be bittersweet. It is like a taste that I can’t quite describe yet I know intimately.

In it lies all the textures of my soul: rough, smooth and everything else in between.

The memory of what I remember is sometimes a burden. I do not want to remember it, I do not want to feel all the feelings that come with the memory, but I do. All the unexplained feelings, the could haves- should haves and would haves that lie like dead weight at the top of the tongue waiting for expression.

Some of the memories are good, they fill the heart with joy. Some memories are sad, vacant tombs that vibrate with the hum of silence. I do not want to go there. I wish the brain would shut down and let it be. There is a struggle between my will and the brain, often I lose the battle and remember the things I wish I didn’t. With death & loss there is no filter, the brain somehow doesn’t allow for it.

There have been times when the numbness and forgetfulness that comes with experiencing a loss have all been what I wanted to have. Not the memory of my loved one laughing, not of them being happy but the protection of nothingness. The nothingness that allows me to navigate the day to day activities until I feel strong enough to cope. Memory doesn’t work like clockwork, nor does it have an on/off switch that one can press at will, it comes when it chooses to and steals into my mind and allows a release of the memories that had been forgotten.

Sometimes I wonder- is what I’m remembering true or is it a made up account of events that allows me to cope when the pain of grieving is too much? I don’t know. Doubt and grieving seems to be friends, especially as time goes by. One is not sure that what one remembers. What I am certain of is that some memories are clearer than others.

These are the lessons I have learnt about memory and coping with grief:

  •       Good memories can be like friends that provides comfort when little else seems to fill that void. They can provide a source of emotional comfort that no-one else can give.
  •       Remembering painful memories doesn’t make one weak, over time it provides emotional strength and resilience to cope better.
  •       Often remembering helps me to maintain my special connection to my loved one. This can be done by looking at a photograph of them, singing their favorite song, wearing their favorite item of clothing or color, or smelling their favorite scent.
  •       Sometimes you do forget someone or an event that is connected to a loved one for a while, this is common when we are grieving. It doesn’t mean that we will never remember again.
  •       When memories are too painful, it helps to find a way to release them. This can be done by talking with somebody else or writing in a journal or doing some meditation or breathing exercises.

Overall memory & remembering is about having parts of our loved ones with us all the time, wherever we go in the world.





*All About the Messiness of Grief

When someone dies, do they really die or does a small part of them remain forever etched in your memory? Do they come alive in the occasional moments that catch you off guard as you see their face in your minds eyes, briefly, a fleeting picture? I have had moments when the memory has been so powerful and real that it seemed that if I reached out, I could simply touch.  Afterwards I have wondered if the memory is true or perhaps in some strange way I am making it up in my mind, to ease the dull ache that remains.

HIV/ AIDS is an epidemic that is global, distant and at the same time local, and deeply personal. I have known many people who have died but one never gets familiar with the visitation of death. It doesn’t matter how much you think you are prepared, there is something that feels disempowering about the finality of it all for those left behind.

When I was a young girl, Nozuko who lived up the street from me, died from HIV/AIDS or z3 as it was known in my township. Life for the most part was simple. It was not unusual to hear the sounds of cows as they contently chewed the grass and went about their business. There was a deep sense of community. It was shocking then, that when Nozi died, there was silence.  Gone was the mischievous light in her eyes. Gone was the music from her lips. When I think of her, I remember little details that seem to be inconsequential to me now, long forgotten pieces of memory drift into my consciousness…the way she used to stamp her feet down and bend all the way down to her feet when something was particularly funny, or her school tie that was always skew because she never learnt how to do a proper knot.  It seemed that with her gone, we lost our capacity to speak beyond the necessary. There were no gushing tears in public, no hugs of support at the funeral. We were all silent, trapped in our fear to speak, just in case you revealed too much of your weakness to others.

The strange thing about experiencing loss is that for a long while, one does not have the language to articulate all the pieces inside of you that become undone. Silence becomes a friend and corners places of whispered fervent prayer. Somehow you imagine that if you pray so many times, maybe just maybe it will all have been a mistake.

The most peculiar and helpful thing about witnessing death I think are the rituals which follow. There are those that are communal, socially and culturally informed. Some of these are the modern ‘after tears’, slaughter of an animal, wearing of a black button, shaving of the head and the making and sharing of mqomboti. Then there are those that we do in private when we are alone with ourselves in our inspired moments of courage and strength. Over the years, I have learnt that opening the wound does not happen immediately, despite ones best effort to appear to be “dealing/coping” with the situation nor breaking down and reaching out a decision you make in your conscious mind, but one that chooses you because of necessity.

 Over time these are some tips  I have learnt about creating rituals:

1. Set up your sacred space (where you will have your ritual) in a quiet place

2. Bring all your objects that you want to use (pictures, music, candles, matches, journals, a favourite shoe or shirt, a Bible, Koran, Rumi or other book of inspiration and thoughts) into your one sacred space. This will help you so that you don’t keep moving around

3. Start with a meditation for clearing your mind/ by burning imphepho or incense for cleansing your space/ a prayer or chant. (Choose a method that works for you and you are most comfortable with)

4. Give some thought to your method, it can take any form of remembering (it can be singing or chanting/ writing in your journal, writing a letter/ holding a momento/creating a piece of art using all of these as inspiration

5. Once you are finished with your ritual, take some time to be quiet within yourself as you end your ritual before entering into the noise of Life

What are some of the ways in which YOU remember?

[*] A Reference to the wonderful book ‘The Long Goodbye’ by Meghan O’ Rourke, 2011