(Twenty-eighth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Memories are strange things. How much control do we have over them? What triggers bring up which memories? How do triggers differ with each individual personality? Does grief affect memory? I know it does mine because I continue to experience new associations and memories being formed from what were once familiar items with no particular memory attached before—which now, after my son’s battle with addiction and death, have a specific memory related to him.
Like aluminum foil.
I can’t recall ever having a memory associated with it. It has been in my life since I was a child, used for baking projects and science projects and art projects. When I saw little wadded up balls of it in our son’s closet, I assumed it was from his fireworks projects. Who could imagine that coming across a bit of foil now, laying on the ground in a parking lot or sidewalk or garden, could bring up a pang of anxiety and grief and regret? It does. Ever since June 22, 2005 it does. Ever since finding out that day that there was Black Tar Heroin residue inside each little ball with odd squiggly patterns from where JL was chasing the wad of liquified heroin as he inhaled. There does not seem to be any way I can change or delete this new association and vivid memory.
Complicated grief results from losing a life love, is worse with losing a child, and is most common when someone experiences the loss of that loved one through a sudden or violent death. Psychologists report that the more awful the circumstances surrounding the death, the greater the risk of complicated grief. Disordered mourning is another way to describe it – when someone continues to have no joy in the present and no hope for the future. Psychologists from Harvard believe this “may be rooted in a paradox of memory. It appears that people who suffer from complicated grief have lost many of the rich and detailed memories of the past. They have only vague and general recollections of their lives—with one notable exception: They often have vivid memories of any event that included the deceased.” The aluminum foil.
These scientists believe that their findings, “especially those regarding the future, might illuminate the tragic nature of extreme grieving. Compared to those who were experiencing normal grief, those with complicated grief had clear defects of both memory and imagination. Difficulty imagining a future without one’s beloved could explain the sense of lost identity and hopelessness that characterizes complicated grief, while the relative ease of envisioning an impossible future with the deceased could be the cognitive foundation of persistent yearning.”
Clear defects. Persistent yearning. From what I have heard in person or read in the on-line groups I am part of, I believe that the parents of the hundreds of thousands of young people who have died from drug overdoses and/or suicides during the decades of the opioid epidemic, easily identify with the above descriptions. The tragic circumstances surrounding our children’s needless deaths have left us with complicated grief. And although we are able to go about our daily business and may even appear to have “moved beyond” or “gotten over it”, this is a reminder that not only did our lives change forever, so did our memories.