When the Sore Memories Encroach

“This is the worst day ever!” my nine-year-old son claimed.

Since nothing of consequence had actually happened that day, I countered, “Oh, there have been far worse days.”

“Like what?” he asked.

“Like the day Grandma died.”

“I don’t really remember that day. I was only four years old,” he replied.

I would’ve been okay if he’d left it at that. Maybe even viewed it as a mercy that he didn’t remember the awful day my mom died in Michigan while we were living in South Africa.

But he didn’t stop there.

“I don’t really remember Grandma, either.”

I instinctively clutched my stomach, as if I could hold in the pain.

The tears came fast, stinging as I sped to the bathroom and closed the door. I turned the shower on cold and stepped into the tub, wishing the shower curtain could separate me from the bite of his honesty. I wiped a cold cloth over hot tears and let the water wash my sobs down the drain.

My fears were coming true. We were forgetting her.

When my mom died in 2011, I clung hard to my grief with a possessive jealousy. I fought off anyone who tried to take my burden from me. I held it close and dear, in case people started to think I had moved on. Gotten over her. Recovered from the gaping hole in my heart.

Five years later, I’m still terrified that I’ll forget the sound of her laugh. The tone of her voice. The shape of her smile.

I have a love/hate relationship with remembering. Memory is a gift and a burden, a blessing and a curse. The parts of life I crave to remember are the ones that seem to slip away; the parts I long to forget often come back to haunt me.

I recently wrote my first memoir. The whole crux of a memoir is found in the remembering—and yet that’s the hardest part.

To make the words appear on the page, I had to force my mind to relive the good parts and the bad. I had to pry my eyelids open and gape into the deepest crevices, the darkest holes. I had to make myself look long and hard at the scenes I’d covered over, hoping to leave buried forever.

“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;  I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’” (Psalm 77:5-9, NIV)

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me” (Lamentations 3:19-20, NIV).

Those are painful rememberings. It’s far easier to brush over them with thick, black paint, never to be seen again.

But that’s not where my story ends.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23, NIV).

Even in spite of frequent, acute aches, the Lord has been so good to me.

Sometimes we have to let our minds go to the hard, dark places in order to see the grace.

I have to remember that Jesus died an excruciating death because of my sins before I can remember that he rose again.

I have to remember that he left me here and ascended to the Father before I can realize he went there to prepare a place for me.

After thinking about the former days and remembering his songs in the night, the author of Psalm 77 determines to be intentional about his remembering:

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. …With your mighty arm you redeemed your people…’” (Psalm 77:10-15a, NIV).

When my son admitted that he struggles to remember his grandma, I largely blamed myself. I should be showing him photos more often, telling him more stories. But it hurts. It stabs my insides every time I go there and remember all that is gone.

Yes, there are painful aspects to my memories. But there is so much more.

When the sore memories encroach, I want to be like the psalmist and call to mind the wonderful deeds of the Lord.

Kate Motaung

Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She and her South African husband have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home (katemotaung.com) and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung. Kate's memoir is scheduled to release through Discovery House in 2017.

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  • Amber Taube

    Oh, Kate, this is beautiful and heart-wrenching. I know that heart-pounding, stomach churning grief too well. I’m so thankful you had such a sweet relationship with your mom and we have the hope of heaven. I have a friend that just lost her mom, and this helps me pray for her. Thank you.

  • Having recently lost the physical presence of my mom, and losing her to Alzheimer’s slowly over years, this touches me deeply, Kate. I really can say, “I know”. Thank you for bringing the pain and promise together, God’s comfort for our grief.

  • Kate, thank you for sharing this hard memory, this needed reminder. Without the valleys we would never know the glory of the mountaintops. It’s hard to remember that in the valleys but God is with us even there. Beautiful and needed words, thank you!

  • Pingback: my love/hate relationship with remembering {a five-year anniversary post}()

  • I pray the memories of your mom and those of her you reinforce with your son be comforting and bring you peace.

  • “When the sore memories encroach, I want to be like the psalmist and call to mind the wonderful deeds of the Lord.” Me, too, Kate! I don’t think the grief ever fully goes away, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think the memories help us keep them alive in our hearts. Blessings to you, dear Kate.