Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 228, The Fear of Forgetting Them.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.
Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. Did you know that if you like watching video that you can watch videos of the Mom Goes On podcast, most episodes, not everyone but this one. If you want to, instead of listening on your podcast platform of choice you can actually go to YouTube and you will see me recording it in all of my glory. I just wanted to make sure that you know that.
So this week I want to talk about the fear of forgetting them because I think it’s one of the deepest fears that we face. It was definitely a huge fear for me. I know I really worried about forgetting the way Hugo smelled and forgetting the sound of his laughter and forgetting just the tiny little things. I already believed I had a bad memory anyway. And so it was really amplified for a few reasons which I’ll go into today. But today I want to talk about why we feel so afraid and kind of normalize that, how the fear can be problematic if we don’t figure out how to support ourselves through it.
And then some actual things that we can do, practically speaking, to preserve the memories and to support ourselves. So that’s what we’re going to cover today. I told you I would start sharing the joys that I’m having. And let me tell you my joy this week. It’s happening this week as you listen to this podcast recording, but I’m recording the podcast ahead of time because right now as you listen, I am on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean.
I have never been on a cruise before. I have been to different parts of the Caribbean before, but never on a cruise. And the boyfriend and I are going on a cruise, so that is my joy right now in addition of course to it just being fall because that’s my favorite.
So anyway, let’s talk about fear. It is such a common thing to be afraid of losing your memories, to be afraid of forgetting them. Let me preface this by telling you, you might not like that part of what I’m going to tell you is not going to help you remember them better or completely easy, fear of forgetting them. I think it’s normal that we do forget. And so just straight out of the gate I want to offer that we are going to forget. And one of the biggest things I hope you’ll do is stop stressing yourself out about forgetting.
We don’t need to compile the stress on ourselves by telling us that we shouldn’t be feeling it or that it’s a problem, I don’t believe it is. I believe it’s just a natural fear. So let’s jump into it. First of all, I want to remind you, if you haven’t listened to the podcast episode on secondary losses and the term secondary loss is new to you, that you consider listening to that podcast episode because losing memories is a secondary loss. Remember that the primary loss is their death, that they died. The secondary losses are all the other losses that come as a result of the primary loss.
So memories are secondary losses, only natural to fear them. And we’ve talked about this in prior episodes too. That part of what’s happening in our brain that doesn’t really feel logical or make a lot of intellectual sense to us in the moment because it’s so new. Is that our brain has encoded the we-ness of our relationship. Our brain understands, has grown to understand that our person was important to us. And so it is normal that our brain would try to motivate us to stay connected to them, to find them.
And we’ve talked about how, this is what some people strategize is the cause of yearning of longing is the brain’s attempt for us to not give up and to find our person. So I just want to offer that if the fear you feel about losing their memory does not feel logical to you, it’s okay. I don’t think there needs to be logical, it doesn’t need to make sense to us logically for us to decide that it is just part of grief and that we don’t have to understand it completely, who knows? We’re only just beginning to learn what’s going on in the human brain during grief. And I don’t think it’s a reason to stress ourselves out.
Also, some of what I believe makes this fear worse is that sometimes we have some unhelpful information about grief in our brain, about how we should be moving on, getting back to living. And we put pressure on ourselves. And so I think that can complicate it. I also think that we can make ourselves feel guilty sometimes. If we don’t remember every little detail, we treat ourselves like we have betrayed them, or at least our brain treats us, like we have betrayed them.
And I don’t think it’s a personal failing when we don’t remember every little detail. And I don’t think it means we didn’t love them. I don’t think it means we weren’t amazing partners. I think it’s just our human brain only has so much capacity for memory, of course we’re going to forget things. We forget things about people who are still living, but yet we aren’t beating ourselves up about that. Why do we beat ourselves up about the things that we forget about the people we loved who died? I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up about that either.
I also think we want to be really cautious and really intentional about the amount of pressure that we put on ourselves to preserve the legacy, be the legacy keeper. And I see a lot of moms doing this, where especially if your kids were little enough that they maybe didn’t remember their other parent. When you put that on yourself as the only one responsible for your kids’ connection to their other parent, that’s a lot. That’s heavy. That’s unnecessary. And yes, we can find the truth in it because maybe you are their only connection and also does it help you?
And I think that added pressure is the last thing we need in an already pressure filled experience. So just note those things. Note if your brain is doing that. Is your brain making it all up to you to preserve their memories and be the connection for your kids? Is your brain making it mean that there’s something wrong with you or you didn’t love them enough if you don’t remember every single detail? And if it feels illogical to you that you feel this fear, can you just normalize that and let it be okay? I think we can. I think we totally can.
Furthermore, we have the complications of widow fog for some of us. Not everyone has really intense grief fog but most of us do have it. And so at a time when we’re able to think less clearly than ever before tends to be the time that we put the most pressure on ourselves to think more clearly than ever before. Not helpful. So if we could cut ourselves some slack, that’d be great. That’d be great. So I’m going to give you some tangible strategies that I think you can use to preserve memories.
One of the things that I did is I journaled a lot in the early days. And this was what felt good to me. I wrote to Hugo specifically, Dear Hugo. And I would tell him about my day and I would tell him about my fears. And I told the story of what happened in terms of him dying. I just wrote it all out. And then I made a big, bulleted list, everything I could think of, and I kept adding to it, of all the memories, all the things I was afraid to forget and didn’t want to, little things, big things, just anything I could remember.
Since then, I actually created a journal, it’s called Memories That Matter, which it is available to you. But I’ll tell you how you can get it and it’s got 100 journal prompts in it. And I really wish I would have those at the time because since then I’ve thought of so many things I would have asked myself to write down the details about while they were more fresh. I only created this journal a year ago, maybe. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s fairly recent and Hugo died in 2016. So I wish I had had these questions.
So I’m going to make this available to you. We’ll put a link in the show notes, but it’s coachingwithkrista.com/memoryjournal. And it is a digital product, not a physical one. You buy it, you download it, and then you print it. We can give you suggestions on where to get it printed, or you can fill it out, you can just hand write the journal prompts if you want into your own journal, you don’t have to actually print this one if you don’t want to. But I highly recommend that if this is a fear of yours, that you get this journal. It’s well worth the price in my opinion. We’ve made it very affordable.
And actually I don’t know what we’re going to do because I’m recording this a little bit in advance. But for the first few days after the podcast airs, we’re going to do a little flash sale so that you can get this on sale because I know sometimes that if I don’t have an incentive to act quickly, I won’t, and I don’t want you to miss out. So I’m just going to give you a little bit of a discount in the first couple of days after listening to the podcast. It’ll still be available long afterwards. Don’t worry if you missed the initial discount, no big deal.
But Memories That Matter, I think will be really helpful for you. If you don’t get that, just write it down, write down everything you can think of. What were the silly little things that they said? What did they tease you about? What were the inside jokes that you shared? What do you remember that they smelled like? Can you describe that to yourself and write it down? What were the things that just made them so quirky?
I always loved the way that Hugo’s throat would just flare up red when he got mad about something. I mean, he would just flare up red and French Canadian F bombs would just fly out of his mouth, not at me or anything but when he got fired up about something, it was a full body experience. And I loved writing that down.
The way that he would organize his clothes in the closet and his laundry system, I remember writing that down because I didn’t want to forget it. He had a very specific way of doing laundry and he would put his clothes in order and then he would just essentially grab the next shirt in line, wear it, put it back on the hanger and stick it at the end of the line and then when he got to the starting place, he would take all of those hangers to the laundry and then take all the clothes off and wash them. So he never actually put dirty laundry, shirts and pants in a laundry hamper, he just put them on the hanger.
Anyway, I bet your person had some unique things like that too. Write them down. Then that’s an amazing activity, just writing it down, incorporate those stories into your family life. This is not you living in the past when you tell stories about your person. Share stories, make it commonplace. Lead by example, give other people permission in your life to share stories about them too. Share them with kids. Share them with family. Share them with co-workers, friends. Talk about your person. Say their name. Say the funny things. Say the inside jokes. Let that carry on.
Let that be part of you’re just being alive. I think sometimes we don’t do that because we tell ourselves, well, I must not be moving forward. If I’m still talking about them that much, people are going to think that I’m not doing very well with my grief. Who cares? Let them think that. Let them be wrong. Let them misunderstand grief. Telling stories about your person is healthy, feels good, gives permission to other people around you to do the same. I am all for it, I hope you’ll do it more.
You could also start a memory box because maybe you’ll write down all the memories that you have right now and more memories will come. So you could start a little memory box where you put memories as you think of them. Maybe you put some little 3 x 5 index cards near the box and just when you think of another memory you just write it on that index card and you stick it in the box. You could have your kids do the same. Maybe things that just come to you randomly. I remember they liked that song. I remember this. And it didn’t get in your initial memory journal, put it in a box. Have a system for that. Easy.
And then I love thinking about what are the ways that you can actually bring pleasure into your life as you remember them? What are the hobbies and the things that they loved, that feel good to you to do? Was there a favorite recipe? What were their favorite activities? What did you do together? Did they have a hobby that you all could find joy in doing? What were their favorite songs? You can listen to them. What were their favorite sports? You can play those sports. You can actually engage yourself and your kids in the hobbies that your person loved as a way of remembering them and enjoying at the same time.
So I think there’s plenty of options. Also though, it’s okay to be sad about losing their memories. To some extent we are, we are going to lose their memories. This is part of grief. I don’t want you to come away with this list of things to do and then tell yourself, well, if I do these things I don’t have to be sad because I can write all the memories down and that way I don’t forget anything. No, we’re humans, we have human brains. We’re going to forget things, that is the way of it. And it is okay to be afraid of that. And it is okay to be sad about that. It’s just okay.
This is why I’m such a big advocate of trying to help people come up with different tools that they can use to allow them to feel their feelings. Because these feelings can pass through us, they can be with us. They can’t hurt us. They’re just feelings. They’re just vibrations in our body, part of the human experience, they’re transitory. We can allow them. We don’t have to talk ourselves out of them. We don’t have to try to find silver linings and brighter spots so that we don’t feel sad. We can feel sad.
So please don’t use this as a way to try to talk yourself out of being sad or convince yourself that you won’t forget because I just don’t think that’s helpful. And if it is really stressing you, find a community to talk about, find somebody to talk about this with. This is in Mom Goes On, one of my very favorite things.
We just had a coaching call not too long ago, and without sharing any details, the woman who came to the call was just experiencing a secondary loss and she kind of didn’t even know what she wanted coaching on. She just started talking about the loss and what she was feeling, and then she felt better. Basically, she just said, “You know what? I really know what I needed was I just needed to say it to a group of people who get it. I needed to talk about my emotional experience, not so that somebody would change it for me. I just needed to be witnessed.” And we witnessed her.
And did she feel amazing after it was over? No, she was still feeling sad but also she felt supported in that sadness. So if it’s not, Mom Goes On, which selfishly I hope it will be someday for you, find a place, find a community of people who get you where you can go to be witnessed where they aren’t trying to change you, but they’re just willing to witness you. That’s the kind of support I really want you to have.
And then of course, you can change the things you want about your life. It’s not about the isn’t it awful club, but sometimes what we really need is just someone to witness how we’re feeling and what that’s like and that’s available to you. The internet is an amazing place. And then I also want to offer because I always will, that post traumatic growth is real. Post traumatic growth can still happen even if your memory doesn’t allow you to retain every little detail of their lives. Post traumatic growth just means we get to choose our response to anything that happens to us.
We get to live a life that’s more aligned with our values at any point in time. And something like the loss of a spouse is sometimes the impetus for that where we go, “Oh, wow, if life is this short and precious, am I living the way that I want to live?” And if not, what needs to change? And that kind of growth, in my opinion, honors their memory. That kind of choosing who you want to be in this next chapter of your life is a way that you will bring them with you in your future. It’s not how you move on from it. It’s how you move forward with it. And I know that for me that has felt really good. So I offer that to you.
So you’re going to forget some details. Let yourself feel how you feel about that. It’s okay if you feel fear. It’s okay if you feel sadness. This is a normal part of grief. And there are some steps you can take to preserve those memories, and doing so doesn’t mean you’re living in the past, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in your grief. Just means you’re figuring out ways to support yourself and do something that’s important to you. And all of those things are available to you.
Alright, I hope this helped you. If you’d like to get your hands on the Memories That Matter journal, you can go to coachingwithkrista.com/memoryjournal and we’ll have it there for you. A little discount for the next few days just so that you will go check it out and not wait. And I hope it helps you. I had a lot of fun putting it together. It made my heart really happy. So, alright, I love you, you’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week, alright, bye bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.