Forgetting to Remember This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The worst thing you can do is forget. We do not mean to, it just happens. When something devastating occurs, our mind and body’s focus is to survive. Often, what we mistake for courage is cowardice. By the second stage of grief – anger – we fight to keep our emotions down, to push the sadness and hatred from rising through our throats into our brains. Sometimes that struggle becomes caught in your lungs and squeezes your breath until you gasp.

“Well, it’s important to me. It’s important to a lot of people.” My mother’s voice comes in uneven sobs as she struggles to speak her mind against the obstinate teenagers facing her – my sister and me.

“So what. We’re the ones who have to go through everything again. We’re the ones who get to be stared at in church, and it would be weird having all my friends there,” my younger sister says in a half-angry, half-patronizing tone.

“Yeah. Who cares what other people will think? Haven’t we learned that we do things our way? We always have,” I plead and complain, knowing I am putting my mom in an awkward position, backing her into a corner. Anger bubbles as I am forced to remember something I had finally learned to forget.

“It’s customary to have a memorial Mass every five years. Nana has one every year. What is she going to think if we don’t have one?”

This need to please my father’s mother has always puzzled me. I don’t like it. It makes everything seem fake and, worse, that my sister and I are the only connection my mother has to my nana. In the old days we were one big family. It did not matter that my mother had just married into the family. Now we are the only reason she keeps in touch with them.

We sulk as Mom continues, “Do you want me just to forget? I’m not going to forget Gary.” The expression on her face is impossible to look at as she bursts into tears and spits out the words, “I hope that when I’m dead you’ll take the time to think about me once every five years.”

She escapes into the bathroom and continues crying while I try not to take her words to heart. I have no urge to console her, no need to say I’m sorry and give in. I hate myself for that. I know I’m not being mature, but I can’t help it. My five-year-old heart wants to have a tantrum.

A day later, my mom tells me she will do as we asked and not have a memorial service for my father. This should be a victory, but really it’s the opposite. By now I have cooled off and realize the logic of what she was saying. The thing is, it’s just too late. The damage has already been done, and my damn pride won’t allow me to believe otherwise. If I had only let myself remember and taken the time to grieve, then I would have pleased my mother. I would have had a good cry that I badly needed. It would have consoled my family. It would have been important to my father. It would have been respectful and shown the world I still love and miss my dad. Would have.

***

They say the first thing to go is their voice. The moment you realize it’s gone, your entire world comes crashing around you. Our voices are how we communicate. Once the tone and characteristic laugh are no longer a part of you, you feel disconnected. The last shred of your past is severed. You feel them floating away, drifting to a distant place inaccessible to you. Lost, but free.

“Grandpa, what tape are you putting in? I can’t take any more Frank Sinatra.”

“You’ll see. It’s a surprise. Uncle Ricky found it a few weeks ago, and I want you to hear it.”

“Okay,” I say and continue chewing a bite of my turkey sandwich. I assume it’s a live recording of my uncle’s band.

“Here we go …” Grandpa says.

I freeze. My half-chewed food remains motionless in my mouth. A flood of emotions sweeps over me as I hear my grandmother’s soft, calm voice. A lump rises in my throat as I listen to the first chapter of Stuart Little. My eyes are stinging. Just when I think I can’t take anymore, the tape goes from bad to worse and her voice is again lost forever. I want to scream, “Why are you doing this to me?” but my voice can’t get around that painful block in my throat I am trying so hard to suppress.

It’s amazing how a bad recording of a simple thing can bring you right back to square one. All of a sudden the emotions are new again, painfully sharp. The grief and overwhelming sadness are as crystal-clear as they were that day you heard the words, “They took Grammy off life support.” Situations like this will occur, and they will always happen at the most inopportune times, just when you think everything is swell.

Is there a right way to deal with grief? Don’t forget the past. Life is supposed to be confusing; there is no concrete solution. No comfort. No rationalization.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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