Sunday, July 28, 2013

Memory Shift

Memories of N are shifting, as if seen through a kaleidoscope.

The first few months, I was haunted by images of N dead and N suffering; all I could remember was recent time when he was severely depressed and not himself. Trying to piece together the puzzle of his state of mind kept me submerged in troubling memories. I couldn’t face looking at pictures from happier times; they seemed distant and unreal or tainted by N’s suicide, as if they could never be restored to simple happy memories.

Then I spent a couple weeks sorting through photos and other people’s memories while preparing a scrapbook for N’s birthday. I paged through the scrapbook incessantly as I assembled it, then later slowly and sadly with a cousin and a few others. The scrapbook was creating a very different narrative than the mental health history I had so painstakingly compiled in the first three months. It was a gathering in of interests, phases, people and talents in N’s life that made me feel my son had lived a lot of life. Meanwhile, my husband and I started mentioning memories of N—the vital, healthy, seemingly happy N-- more in conversation.

When we came home after vacation, we were swamped by the unreal reality of his death yet again. How can this be, how could this have happened? I loop back to the same anguished questions. But they feel like different questions now that I am no longer in shock and no longer a helpless prisoner of bad memories. The good memories have inserted themselves, taking up space. My universe has tilted on its axis. Now I see the questions from across N’s rich lifespan, and I am more confused than ever. How did we get from all that curiosity, energy, and zest for life—from being what a friend of his called “a bunsen burner of joy”—to a year of despair and the violent ending of life? How can the ongoing conversation with N that brought me and others such joy be forever silenced? 

Now the vitality of his life seems most real and the possibility of mental illness unreal. After all, he lived well 20 times longer than he suffered.

Maybe the memories will keep shifting, the sweet with the painful, until they settle into a balance we can accept.

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