Torn between remembering and forgetting

Toby photo 2This is the conversation that goes on in my head quite regularly.

“I feel OK, today quite content really. I feel quite happy, life is good.”

“But how can you possibly be happy? Your son is dead. You can’t possibly be happy? What kind of mother are you? Didn’t you love him enough? You should be devastated, grief stricken, unable to go on”

I look at his photo, but I don’t connect his image with grief and despair, on the contrary, I usually smile and say “Hello Toby” and kiss my finger and place it on his forehead on the picture.

Then the thoughts start. I start remembering how awful it is that my son is dead, and if I really sat down and allowed myself to go there I would be grief stricken and unable to go on, but I don’t allow it.

I allow myself to feel happy, I don’t really connect the two things. It kind of drives me mad, but this is normal for me now.

This feeling torn between forgetting and feeling happy and remembering and feeling bad. If I don’t think about how awful it is all the time, does that mean it isn’t that bad, am I a bad mother?

No of course not, but we do live in a society where we are constantly judging each other whether we want to admit it or not.

I can’t explain very well what I am trying to say, I know I never imagined I could ever have a happy life without a healthy happy Toby in it. Toby was my world, my everything, my Universe, my beautiful boy. How could life ever go on without him?

All I can tell you is I believe in the incredible power of the human spirit to cope with the most terrible tragedy and survive, it is like our liver, we can slice it in half but it will recover and regenerate, and though it will never be as good as new it allows us to function.

So my psyche tells me I can’t possibly feel happy, and yet I do and I know if Toby was here, he would give me some Toby wisdom and would probably say, “This is really shit, and I’m sorry Mum, but I want you to be happy, don’t live in misery because of what I have done, that was never my intention”

When my Mum died I read a classic poem by Christina Rossetti which expresses the sentiment beautifully

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you planned:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

         Than that you should remember and be sad.

This entry was posted in bereavement, Grief, guilt, Healing, Loss. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Torn between remembering and forgetting

  1. Michele Harper. says:

    I had one of those days today, putting some of Liam’s things in boxes to go into the loft, crying because I miss him so much, then looking at photos and laughing as I remember that moment when the photo was taken.. Life can be so crewl….it feels like there is a battle going on in my head.,

  2. Lori Robinson says:

    Dear Anne,
    I always appreciate seeing your emails about surviving after losing your beloved son, Toby. I love what you blog, and the sheer honesty of your writing. Of course we live in a world that expects us to carry on “stiff, upper lip” as you English say. But this is easier said than done, as us bereaved parents realize. I, too, have received similar comments from colleagues at work. Surely, I want to scream at them ( but I stay quiet, demure, and just smile) ” do you really believe the image of my happy, “normal” persona at work represents the status of my forever crushed, broken and torn heart inside?” No one wants to be near people in distress emotionally so society forces us to shelf our true feelings as we forge ahead each day. But you are correct, perhaps the distance from our “child’s” death, so profoundly tragically ( Shane also took his beautiful, precious life of 25 1/4 years) now 33 months later- helps the actual full life our “children” lived to once again flood our memory banks. (We can never forget the last unfathomable nightmare of how they left this world but fortunately, the cherished decades when their lives were full and so richly lived seem to surface more and more, at least for me, now.) Let all of us bereaved parents hold on to the vast amount of treasured experiences we carry around with us- their birth, the first time they slept through the night, their first tooth and first step, the delight and squeals they made as toddlers while exploring their new world, their first day of school, their ease of making friends, their baptism, their joy of every holiday, and vacation, their first date, their joy of pitching in little league, and winning a basketball championship, seeing our “child” successfully find his career or trade. And for some of us parents I even got to have that coveted “mother-son” dance at Shane’s wedding 8-8-09 when his life seemed to be just soaring. Yes, we need to flood our memory banks of the joys we forever carry within us. I think it will make our journey without them more bearable.

    Wishing you, and all other parents in this club no one ever believes we would become members of, the best the upcoming holidays can be. I’m thinking of each of you and holding you all in a special place in my heart.
    Lori Robinson (So CA)

    • annwae says:

      Thanks Lori, and thanks for reminding me of all those firsts, although Toby never started a career or got married I have so many happy memories, especially when he was a little boy. I do feel blessed that I am able to feel happiness, I know some parents who still can’t look at pictures. Sending you lots of love and best wishes. X

  3. velvetmp says:

    The relief then guilt you feel in sure as you know is quit a normal response to heavy grief. I’m sure you have grieved beyond reproach. It’s ok to feel good.
    It doesn’t mean you loved your son any less. In fact, your moving forward is a monument to his memory. ❤️

  4. Maggie Culpin says:

    It is 3 years since I lost my beloved eldest son David in this way and I really admire your spirit and words of inspiration. I envy your determination to get on with your life and to be happy and I understand everything you have said and I commend you for it. But for me, it continues to haunt me, even more so as the reality of it hits home on a daily basis. I, too carry on and anyone meeting with me would not know how I am truly feeling so I guess I am going through the motions of daily living and getting on with it. I know my son wouldn’t want me to feel sad all the time but the truth of it is that I do. I see friends, I go to work, I laugh…I cry….sometimes I do manage to forget….but it is always there, invisible, sitting on my shoulder weighing me down like a giant. I carry on because what is the alternative, I have another wonderful son and husband to think about and I do very much so but for me the joy has gone out of life and I fear will not return.

    • annwae says:

      I am sorry to hear that Maggie, you are blessed to have a son and a husband alive, I have no-one, so do try and count your blessings as well. I realise I am fortunate to have found a way to accept my loss and feel happy again, but I do realise this is not possible for everyone, however I do believe if you focus on what you have and not what you have lost, and the love and happiness that David gave you, you will find a way to feel happy again, but you have to want it and be prepared to examine your thoughts and realise you do have control over your thoughts, even if that seems hard to accept. I wish you best wishes on your journey.

    • Roseanna says:

      That’s what I feel like my 39 year old daughter hung herself on 4/28/15 and none of can understand why she had problems with alcohol and wasn’t satisfied with her life but she had plans for a vacation had just got her hair done we talked earlier in the day. I miss her so much but every day go through the motions for my son who found her hanging we all live together. I spend most of my time with them now and do a silent cry because my son is so traumatized by seeing her that way he feels he said bad things to her and his guilt is weighing heavily on him. Her funeral will be on the 8th how do you go on without ever seeing her again I want to scream but sometimes I think she would be so upset with me and is yelling at me mom stop it. That emptiness is so hard,

    • Debbie McMurray says:

      It’s been 11 years since I lost my 27 year old son to suicide. I live a very simple life and don’t seem to look for more because I’ve become content with just existing and going through the motions of every day life. I have a lot of good days and can be happy in the moment but inside its a whole different story. I chose to be alone in life, although I have two other sons and two beautiful grandchildren whom I love dearly, they are my life. I can’t seem to focus like I use to, my mind wanders and always questions that will never have answers. I can relate to everything your saying and hope you can find the strength within yourself to live the best possible life you can. I know what reality is and sometimes struggle with it but I can’t seem to let go. I know in my heart that my son is ok, it’s me, the one left behind that can’t seem to quit hitting the replay button. I feel my life is very sad and relate only to well to reading these tragic stories, which I have never done until today. My heart goes out to anyone that has to live through this.

  5. Jackie Brown says:

    Just after Dan died Happy was released and when I found myself singing it I told myself off. I felt guilty for singing a song!! Its dans birthday on Thursday, I’m going to his grave, it was mine on Saturday. Its been a hard couple of weeks. Harder than usual.

  6. J says:

    I too have the same day. I push myself to believe I’m happy and that I’m healing. I don’t think there is a healing, you just find a way to cope. I cry daily, speak tomy daughter daily. Sometimes I smile when I think of something silly she said or did, but that is usually short lived and followed by sobing and the reality she is never coming back and this is not a nightmare from which I will awake. When I thought things could not get worse they did. I lost my daughter in 2008. She took her life after having had an accident that took the life of her friend. People who lacked the facts of the accident were quick to let their opions be known, many that were painful to her. The state was on the war path because of another high profile accident involving a celebrity’s son and wanted to win back public approval after not pressing charges against him, so they charged my daughter with vehicular homicide. They made statements before material facts were reviewed that they were going to seek maximum sentence 14 yrs in prison. For her at 21 years old saw no future and had little confidence in getting charges dropped or lessened. This along with the true grief and pain decided to take her life. She hung herself after having written an apology to those she hurt and asked for thier forgiveness. She was found in her bedroom after our requesting a courtesy check since her mother and I were out of town and had been unable to reach her. I will never forget the call, falling to my knee’s begging God for this not to be real. She was my first born, my best friend, greatest daughter you could ask for. We rush home 7 hour drive, praying and crying all the way. The pain is great and will never go away. I talk to her daily and touch her bedroom door every morning and evenining before going to bed. I sneak into her room when my wife and younger daughter are not home just so I can smell her pillow and be close to her. I tell people my heart needs to grow to help make the hole that’s been left seems smaller. I push myself daily and do pretty good most days. Now that is about to charge. I’am having to close my business, spent my reserves/retirement fund after the accident and probably will (attorney fees) loose the house. I’m 54 yrs old, drop out, no real skills and bad health. Wife hasn’t worked in 20yrs and suffers from depression and between both of us probably won’t be able to make enough to pay mortgage and household expenses. I don’t know if I can take the pain and thought of loosing the house. My daughters spirit is here, if I can’t be close to that I don’t want to go on. I’m going to try to make it all work and realize my wife and daughter need me but I don’t think I can take the pain or look them in the eyes. I’d be a failure to them and know they wouldn’t want to leave our daughters spirit or the house. Please say a prayer for the family and me. Thank you.

  7. jobenheimer says:

    I am sitting here nodding my head, identifying with each and every woman here, what each of you have said…..true, so very true, about being torn between remembering and forgetting. We LOGICALLY know in our head we could never forget our children, but it does feel that way when I am at a social function, having some laughs, then all that internal dialogue begins. Again. We are our own worst critics; we put on the Mother’s guilt like an article of clothing. But if we can remember to treat ourselves with as much love and respect as we do to our closest friends/husbands/significant others, then the road to recovery isn’t quite as rocky. Living in limbo is not living, it is existing. Nothing more, nothing less. Our children would not want us simply to exist during the time we have left here on earth. We have to go forward…..

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