Sometimes we tell stories about our parents. Christmas time, this issue came up for me; I started talking about how my mom really loves Christmas. That it’s her favorite holiday. And half-way through, as the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that I felt really strange. I felt sad and uncomfortable but had no idea how to deal with it in the passing of those words. ‘Does she love Christmas’ or ‘did she love Christmas’? ‘Is it her favorite holiday’ or ‘was it her favorite holiday’? Changing the tense of the words in my mini story made me feel sad! Does this mean I shouldn’t even tell stories about my mom? Does it mean that every time I tell a story I’m going to have stumble over the words like I’m climbing some kind of mountain with rocks and sticks in the way?
The first time I ever realized I’d have to change the tense of my words was immediately after my mom died. I was there, in the room when she took her last breath and I saw the throb of her heart pulse one final time on her neck… and then never again. I knew my life was going to be different, because I had done this with my dad already but I had no clue all of the challenges I would face with both of them physically gone from my life. So many! It seems like there’s always something I have to climb over or through in order to get to the other side. Changing the tense of my words has been one of them.
I think it’s helpful when telling a story like ‘My dad loves’ to ‘my dad loved’ or ‘my mom cooks’ to ‘my mom used to cook or cooked’ to be okay with changing the tense in the middle of the sentence. It can be vulnerable to do so, but you show yourself and others that you are accepting the now as it is and that you are able to comprehend that even though you have lost them physically, you can still tell stories about them and be okay doing so. It takes some practice, but if you can just be okay with it, it will help you be able to tell even more stories about your parents, which in turn will help make you feel more connected to the history and the memories you made together and will help to keep their energy alive.
I think one thing that can be scary is if you aren’t ready to face the fact that your parent is physically gone, you may not want to change the tense of the stories you are telling. That’s okay, too… I think as long as you know that you are on a journey. You may not be ready to tell stories about them. Or you may be ready to start talking about them (because it makes you smile or bring up an emotion that helps you get through that tough time), but you may not be ready to change the tense. That’s okay too.
If want to try it without being around people, you could even practice out loud when you are alone, on paper, or talk about them to yourself silently.
Anyway you do it, it’s all okay. It’s a process and a journey.