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Featured this Month:

How Memories Age
Monday, December 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
The young children in our grief program often struggle with recalling memories of the loved one they lost to suicide. They might say that they remember places, behaviors, or activities that occurred on a regular basis with their loved one, but too often the memories are vague. We know that when children as young as four or five remember the fancy rims on Papa’s wheels, or that father tossed them playfully in the air, or an older brother played soccer and wore a particular kind of hat, they have locked on to something that stands out and carries significance. They have many more memories of course, but they are rarely highlighted or selected in their minds, just because they fit into the background of everyday life. Young children who are grieving can use help and companionship when they have neither the language capacity, nor the sense of narrative that would help them create stories about the person and the relationship that they lost. They may respond to photos and do their best to talk about remembered activities. They may know that they feel sad when they are not distracted with the vivid unfolding of their present lives. They may even notice, with support, that ordinary frustration can open up the wound of the loss. But the development of a vivid memory story that reveals the unique relationship the child experienced with the deceased person, and especially, the meanings related to the growing child’s sense of self (that become evident much later) can be cultivated with the help of a parent or therapist, or even an older sibling. Specific, highlighted memories can be integrated from their brief years with the loved one that take on value with age, and can also link up with meaning as the child matures many years beyond the loss.

I hold a memory of my lively, freckledaunt jumping from a high diving board that dates back to when I was eight or nine years old, and this memory informs the ideas and perceptions that I carry about her as a role model long after her death. Similarly, a ten-year- old whose very depressed father slept instead of driving her to cheerleading practice could select that visceral memory of frustration to support a sense of abandonment. When the picture story is available, its meaning becomes available for experiential processing. It will be possible to bring consciousness to interpretations and thinking errors about the person and the loss that inform our lives as we develop.

There is a great deal of value in inviting young children to articulate what they can about the loved one, and to help them go deeper into the memory with drawings or diagrams. One child drew his father’s hands with freckles. Another child drew a chicken coop that he watched his father assemble. A child’s recollection of the loved one’s voice, body, clothing and shoes, posture, or laugh are very difficult to articulate, but she may pull up the sounds and images in her mind when prompted, and hold on to it as she attempts to draw. It was both grief and practice when a child drew her familiar memory of her father coming down the stairs to the kitchen each morning. She was able to imagine his blue shirt and black shoes. The memories should be distinguished and highlighted, given a place in the memory bank by imagining details that were sometimes true. Each time the child revisits the shared memory, it takes on a sense of permanence and mythology. The memories that have been witnessed and stored can be recalled later when the child has matured, and he or she may draw meaning from memories that support a narrative about who the deceased person was, and how the child experienced the relationship.

As a young child sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, I liked to study my mother’s hand as it rested behind the top of my father’s driver’s seat. I made up stories about the twinkling diamond in her wedding ring, observed and remembered her tanned arm and smooth, firm skin. This memory was a visual without a narrative. But after her death at the age of 87, that memory was still vivid, and it took on meaning about my mother’s vitality and confidence as a young mother, her happiness at being married and seeing the world through the windows of the car with her children safe in the back seat. This linked with another scene several decades later, when my aged parents struggled against accumulated disappointments and distancing due to Dad’s depression and Mother’s impatience. As I sat with them at their breakfast table, Mom took a bite of toast and sighed loudly with emptiness, while my father never even looked up from his paper, folded neatly near his plate. How had the years changed them? I saw them as despairing. But a few years later, when my father was in a nursing facility he requested to be brought home one afternoon to sit in his house again. He asked for a glass of wine, and held my mother’s hand. Never was a grasp so intentional.

Now that I grieve their deaths, I’ve acquired a meaningful perspective about their marriage that acknowledges change, struggle and growth, and an intimately considered awareness of how a long marriage weathers over time, just as memories do.

You can assist your child to begin to hold memories and stories that will later inform deeper understandings of his or her loved one and the relationship with ongoing memory-building activities. They can be stimulated with conversation and photos, scrapbooking, keepsakes and even the stories and lore that predate the birth of the child. With companionship, children can cultivate memory banks of scenes and stories as they begin to talk about or draw their impressions. And children love to hear stories about their parents as children or young adults. Without excessive idealizing, a deceased parent or sibling can offer lessons through mistakes or successes, triumphs or hard times.
Who was my loved one, and what can I draw upon to keep them alive through memory? We can prepare the young to acquire a meaningful sense of this question as they grow by engaging with them to notice and lock in the details of what they can recall now.


Archives:

How Memories Age
Monday, December 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
The young children in our grief program often struggle with recalling memories of the loved one they lost to suicide. They might say that they remember places, behaviors, or activities that occurred on a regular basis with their loved one, but too often the memories are vague. We know that when children as young as four or five remember the fancy rims on Papa’s wheels, or that father tossed them playfully in the air, or an older brother played soccer and wore a particular kind of hat, they have locked on to something that stands out and carries significance. They have many more memories of course, but they are rarely highlighted or selected in their minds, just because they fit into the background of everyday life. Young children who are grieving can use help and companionship when they have neither the language capacity, nor the sense of narrative that would help them create stories about the person and the relationship that they lost. They may respond to photos and do their best to talk about remembered activities. They may know that they feel sad when they are not distracted with the vivid unfolding of their present lives. They may even notice, with support, that ordinary frustration can open up the wound of the loss. But the development of a vivid memory story that reveals the unique relationship the child experienced with the deceased person, and especially, the meanings related to the growing child’s sense of self (that become evident much later) can be cultivated with the help of a parent or therapist, or even an older sibling. Specific, highlighted memories can be integrated from their brief years with the loved one that take on value with age, and can also link up with meaning as the child matures many years beyond the loss.

I hold a memory of my lively, freckledaunt jumping from a high diving board that dates back to when I was eight or nine years old, and this memory informs the ideas and perceptions that I carry about her as a role model long after her death. Similarly, a ten-year- old whose very depressed father slept instead of driving her to cheerleading practice could select that visceral memory of frustration to support a sense of abandonment. When the picture story is available, its meaning becomes available for experiential processing. It will be possible to bring consciousness to interpretations and thinking errors about the person and the loss that inform our lives as we develop.

There is a great deal of value in inviting young children to articulate what they can about the loved one, and to help them go deeper into the memory with drawings or diagrams. One child drew his father’s hands with freckles. Another child drew a chicken coop that he watched his father assemble. A child’s recollection of the loved one’s voice, body, clothing and shoes, posture, or laugh are very difficult to articulate, but she may pull up the sounds and images in her mind when prompted, and hold on to it as she attempts to draw. It was both grief and practice when a child drew her familiar memory of her father coming down the stairs to the kitchen each morning. She was able to imagine his blue shirt and black shoes. The memories should be distinguished and highlighted, given a place in the memory bank by imagining details that were sometimes true. Each time the child revisits the shared memory, it takes on a sense of permanence and mythology. The memories that have been witnessed and stored can be recalled later when the child has matured, and he or she may draw meaning from memories that support a narrative about who the deceased person was, and how the child experienced the relationship.

As a young child sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, I liked to study my mother’s hand as it rested behind the top of my father’s driver’s seat. I made up stories about the twinkling diamond in her wedding ring, observed and remembered her tanned arm and smooth, firm skin. This memory was a visual without a narrative. But after her death at the age of 87, that memory was still vivid, and it took on meaning about my mother’s vitality and confidence as a young mother, her happiness at being married and seeing the world through the windows of the car with her children safe in the back seat. This linked with another scene several decades later, when my aged parents struggled against accumulated disappointments and distancing due to Dad’s depression and Mother’s impatience. As I sat with them at their breakfast table, Mom took a bite of toast and sighed loudly with emptiness, while my father never even looked up from his paper, folded neatly near his plate. How had the years changed them? I saw them as despairing. But a few years later, when my father was in a nursing facility he requested to be brought home one afternoon to sit in his house again. He asked for a glass of wine, and held my mother’s hand. Never was a grasp so intentional.

Now that I grieve their deaths, I’ve acquired a meaningful perspective about their marriage that acknowledges change, struggle and growth, and an intimately considered awareness of how a long marriage weathers over time, just as memories do.

You can assist your child to begin to hold memories and stories that will later inform deeper understandings of his or her loved one and the relationship with ongoing memory-building activities. They can be stimulated with conversation and photos, scrapbooking, keepsakes and even the stories and lore that predate the birth of the child. With companionship, children can cultivate memory banks of scenes and stories as they begin to talk about or draw their impressions. And children love to hear stories about their parents as children or young adults. Without excessive idealizing, a deceased parent or sibling can offer lessons through mistakes or successes, triumphs or hard times.
Who was my loved one, and what can I draw upon to keep them alive through memory? We can prepare the young to acquire a meaningful sense of this question as they grow by engaging with them to notice and lock in the details of what they can recall now.