Ch.157 Happy Memories Don’t Have to Make Me Sad

Ch.157 Happy Memories Don’t Have to Make Me Sad

August 29, 2022

          There are several ways I can drive the 100 miles to my daughter Cindy’s home in Rochester, MN, but the one Pat and I usually took is the most scenic, weaving alongside the Buffalo River for 25 miles until we reached the Mississippi River, then alongside the river cliffs for another 10 miles. Today I drove it alone, for the first time since Pat was institutionalized over one year ago.

          There were several places on the drive I remembered my calling Pat’s attention to natural beauty: a flowered hillside, an intimidating snapping turtle, clouds casting fleeting shadows on the fields, sandhill cranes standing stoically on alert for unwary fish, a mysterious cave in the cliffs, muddy muskrat mounds. Pat would look up from the book she was reading, say something like “Oh, yes, beautiful,” and perhaps reach over and touch my hand.

          I had awakened feeling sad today: Pat’s birthday is September 1, just a few days from now, our first special event since her passing. Maybe Cindy sensed something; she called and invited me to drive down, with Levi (my Collie dog). I’ve committed myself to saying “yes” to social opportunities even when I’m feeling blue. Half an hour later we were on the road.

          I became tearful as soon as I began driving alongside the river. And again, when I passed the place where the river lapped up almost to the road. And again, when I drove by the sideroad we sometimes took that climbed to the top of a high hill. And again… Each positive memory was making me sad. It felt like sadness was the appropriate emotion to feel, a way to honor Pat’s absence.

          And then a thought emerged, unbidden. “Hey, I don’t have to feel sad just because Pat has died. I can feel good about having these memories. It’s not disloyal to feel good.”

          That’s when I decided to place Pat in the passenger seat and talk with her as I drove. “Do you remember this, honey? Here is where we saw the mute swans one winter.” I only needed to do this for a few minutes, and I started to feel better.

          I’m ok with sadness. Indeed, it’s an old friend of mine. It’s easy for me to make sadness my default emotion when I think about Pat. But this voice in my head giving me permission to feel good, even joyful, in Pat’s presence, relieved my immediate sadness and gave me hope for the future.