I had a dream this morning about my grandma who has been in heaven for a little over two years. It was vivid enough that when I woke up I thought I smelled her house. Due to moving and having limited time when we are back in the area, I don’t think I’ve been in her house more than twice since she died, but smell is considered the most strongly connected sense to memory.
We may not be consciously always thinking of loved ones we have lost, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t think of them. Sometimes, it’s in moments like my dream this morning which really just a jumbled up compilation of happy memories. Others, it’s in the moments where we suddenly are reminded for no apparent reason of a time when grandma (or whoever) did or said something.
It’s easy to want to push aside those moments because they can be tinged with the sadness of knowing we will not be making more of those memories, but remembering those times that stand out to us can be important. I learned a lot from my grandma, and even things I didn’t necessarily learn from her are characteristics I find in myself. Recounting memories of her helps to cement those characteristics and lessons into a context that makes them meaningful.
Talking about those memories with others helps us feel connected to those people and to the loved one we are missing. For my husband and I to talk about my grandma lets him experience a very important part of my life that he was never able to participate in while grandma was alive. He wasn’t ever able to meet her, but because she influenced me so much, my talking about my memories of her helps him understand me a bit better.
It’s a little different when we talk to people who remember the same things we do. They were there and can add details to the picture that we wouldn’t have seen for ourselves because each of us is different. They can also understand why some memories are stronger than others. No one will understand the smell of Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s the way that our family will. Even thinking about it makes me want mashed potatoes.
Those memories also help us keep our loved ones close. There is an extreme side of this where we cling to them so much that we can’t move forward in life, but holding onto memories is not a bad thing. The people we meet and love in this life were brought into our lives for a reason. We were close to them for a reason. To simply let go of them without further thought of them is unwise.
Each person is different, though. Some of us will think often of loved ones and some of us less so. Some of us will easily express our emotions and some of us will struggle to give our emotions a voice. Some of us will want to talk about our memories and some won’t. And that’s okay. We all grieve differently. And each loss is going to have a different impact. Two of the biggest losses of my life were people I barely knew but the dreams I had for how they would be involved in my life were very important and the gaps where I know these two people should be are pretty big and painful.
Coming alongside each other in grief means we allow for those differences. We respect them and even cherish them because they are a reminder of our Creator’s infinite ability to design. We let those differences teach us. We grow together. We listen when someone needs us to listen. We cry with them. We let them have their space. And when we hear them whisper, “I miss them,” we whisper back, “I know,” because no words are going to fix that hurt.