Anderson-Khleif: Cherished memories are first defense against overwhelming grief
Memory is a wonderful thing. Happy memories. Useful memories. Such memories are the first line of defense for grief and remain important in the long run.
People often say to a grieving friend or relative, "You are lucky to have many happy memories." This is true.
One memory that I still rely upon is of the wonderful last two days my dear husband Baheej and I spent together before his stroke.
We were on our way home from Minnesota. We stopped at Three Rivers Lodge in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and got a room with a great view of the Mississippi River. We had lunch in the pretty restaurant in the hotel, with big windows looking out to the river.
Baheej ordered a huge bowl of his favorite wild rice mushroom cream soup. He always ordered that in this restaurant, where we had been many times before. Then he suggested we go on the historic paddle wheel boat ride up the river. So we did.
It was a beautiful day. A bald eagle flew overhead. The sun was shining and we saw dozens of turtles up on the rocks basking in the warmth. Baheej had his favorite "vodka con lemon with tonic," a drink he learned to like on a trip to Seville, Spain. I had red wine. It was so peaceful and pleasant.
After that idyllic boat ride we started back to the hotel, walking across a large riverside park. It was very sunny and hot, and Baheej had a bad knee. But we took our time and had on our new hats marked Port of LaCrosse, commemorating the time when it was a riverboat town.
We rested and went down to the same restaurant for supper. Baheej had another big bowl of his favorite wild rice cream soup. It's very fattening, but special and delicious. The best we had ever found.
The next morning, refreshed, we hit the road for home. It was a six-hour drive, and we stopped for lunch at another favorite restaurant, Buffalo Phil's in Wisconsin Dells. Baheej liked the drinking mugs made like Mason jars and got them to sell us four of them.
In the kitchen cabinet, I see them and I think of Baheej.
We got home about 5 p.m., tired but happy. But later in the evening it happened, and there we were ... the odyssey started. And I was in our car following an ambulance to the hospital.
I am so grateful I didn't give Baheej a hard time about all that rich soup at the hotel. He loved it so much. And I often get comfort by remembering that we had beautiful "day before" on the river.
Some memories are not necessarily happy but are useful.
Baheej was 14 years older than I am. I remember my father, who was a calm and kind Swede, asking me, "You know he's older than you. Someday you'll have to deal with that. Do you think you can?" I was very young, so of course I said, "Yes, I can."
My father was right, one day I'd have to deal with death. And that day was now. Nothing really prepares you for this. But the memory of his question, do you think you can deal with that? -- and my answer, "yes," has given me extra strength to cope with the reality of my husband' death.
Another useful memory is about Baheej's outlook on life -- very positive, cheerful, fresh and forward looking. He always said, "Every day is a new day, it's in your hands to make it a good day." This has helped me a lot in coping with long-term grief. I often remember what he would say, and take his advice.
Yes, memory is a wonderful thing. It's important to draw strength from your own storehouse of memories, whether you have lost a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend.
I am not suggesting living in the past. It's important to start building new memories. But cherished old memories will help you cope as you learn to manage long-term grief.
• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@ comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com.