57 minus 18: Memories can surprise you… and me

Posted: 30 July 2021 in 57 minus, family, life, politics
Tags: , , , ,

Occasionally, a tweet from somoene I follow will set off a train of thought.

More rarely, it won’t set off a thought, but, well, this’ll happen…

And this tweet was from someone I follow who doesn’t follow me, doesn’t really know who I am, and who will once in a blue moon will respond to a reply. She tweeted something that… hit home.

(The original tweet contained some personal information, so you’ll have to forgive my summarising it rather than reproducing the actual tweet.)

She lost her father a couple of years ago, and mentioned that she’ll still, every so often, miss something he did or said, or hear a piece of music and think that he’d have liked that. And she rhetorically wondered if that would ever end.

Although most responses were of the negative, ‘no that won’t ever end’, they weren’t unkind, but even within that, the immediate reactions fell into three types:

i) The “No, but would you ever want it to? While you remember him, he’s not really gone” reaction

I understand both the intention and sentiment behind such a response; of course they don’t mean that whoever died didn’t really die. But even so, it’s an position that I really have no time for.

And, in some ways, doing the whole ‘they’re not really gone’ can be cruel, Memories inevitably fade, both in strength and in detail: that is the way of memories. And if you do sign up to the whole ‘while you remember them’ thing, then as the memories fade, there’s gonna be some [undeserved, unjustified] guilt. Because some people are going to believe that it’s their responsibility to continue to remember their departed relative or friend, in order to ‘keep them alive’. And that by not being able to remember them quite as clearly, or in such detail, they’re somehow letting the deceased down. But they’re not.

I’m reminded of a rabbi of my acquaintance who – while they struggled with the reasons for this rule ot that law – very much liked the idea of the Jewish stonesetting. When Jewish people are buried, the headstone isn’t erected at the same time. It goes up later, usually around 11 months later but I’ve known shorter and longer periods. My rabbi friend said there was a reason for it, far beyond the strict religious justification; social ‘life goes on’ reason of which he very much approved.

For those who had not moved on, who were still grieving rather than mourning, the stone setting was a concrete (sorry) reminder, a reminder and an admonition to them: they died, you didn’t.

And for those who might have moved on a bit speedily, it was an equally strong reminder, an equally stern admonition: Hey! Someone you cared about died, you know!

I’m not entirely sure I go along with all of that, but I do very much believe that once someone has gone, you need to genuinely accept it, in all the ways that matter, and know that the memories aren’t an unbiased representation of the person who died; not really. Because they couldn’t be. They’re your memories; filtered, sorted, and sometimes censored, but they’re your memories of them, which might not be strictly accurate.And that’s how it should be; they’re what comes next.

ii) The “No, but what triggers it will change over the years” reaction

Oh, I have a lot of time for this one. Very definitely. It only makes sense to me, because as memories fade, they also fade in different ways. I can no longer truly remember how my brother sounded in normal speech. I mean, ok, it’s been 23 years, and I have very little of his recorded voice. I have one snippet, from my wedding, during which he was making a toast, so it’s not exactly his ‘normal speaking voice’.

So the ‘hearing someone that sounds like him’ trigger evaporated long ago,. I have no idea what music he would have liked now, though occasionally I’ll hear music we both liked at the time.

For the first few years after Mike died, it was most often personal news that I wanted to tell him about, jokes I heard that I wanted to tell him, or even jokes I heard that I knew – I absolutely knew – that he’d have told me first.

Now? Well, I’ll get onto that in more detail in a moment, but it’s often stuff about which we wouldn’t have necessarily talked about then but would now…. Confusing, I know, but bear with me.

iii) The “no, it won’t change, but how you react to it will”

And this one hit home.

Harder than I expected it to when I read the comments saying this, and the feeling grew over the rest of the day.

I’m a huge believer in people being the sum of their own experiences, and I guess memories play into that. How I react to something, anything, now isn’t how I’d have reacted a decade ago, or two decades ago… or 23 years ago. Because I’m a different person now. I’ve a decade’s, or two decades’, or 23 years’, worth of experiences and memories that have changed me.

I don’t know what I’d be like had my brother not died in January 1998, but I’m damn sure I would have been… different in some ways, probably in many ways.

I’ve heard it said that ‘time heals all wounds’. Metaphorically of course, because I can look at my foot with a two-decades’ old three inch scar on it, or my upper chest with a three month old two inch scar on it. They healed over time, of course, but left obvious, blatant, physical marks.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, or at least not without leaving scars, physical or otherwise.

What time does do, I’ve come to realise and appreciate, is that with every passing month, every passing day, rather than healing all wounds, the passing of time merely lessens the temptation to pick at the scab.

Because what happened at some point, and I’m damned if I could identify exactly when, was that my reaction on hearing a joke, or reading a story, or listening to the radio, or watching television, stopped being “Oh, I wish I could tell Mike this…” and instead became, “Oh, Michael would have really liked that…

It happens a lot in Edinburgh (and I think that he’d have really enjoyed me getting up there, would have enjoyed my getting to write with Mitch for the radio and for Edinburgh) but not only then.

It happened a lot during the past 18 months, especially whenever I watched Michael Spicer’s marvellous “The Room Next Door” pieces. Not once was there a “Oh,I wish I could call Mike to tell him about this”; it was always “man, Michael would have loved this…”

It’s happened with tech a few times as well. I’ll think, while being amazed at some piece of tech or another, particularly my iPad, and what it can do, how much Mick would have enjoyed having a play with it.

It happened not that long ago. I was walking back to the flat from Central London. It’s not that long a walk – well under an hour – and if the foot is behaving, and the weather is nice, then sometimes I’ll walk back.

And it happened indirectly because I cleared out a load of stuff I had on my computer. I needed to clear some room on my hard drive and came across a load of ancient radio recordings, some of them from A Week In Westminster, Westminster Hour, and similar type programmes.

I deleted loads, but came across something called “Tales from the Cutting Room” by the journalist Michael Cockerell. I kind of faintly remembered enjoying it, but didn’t recall it clearly.

Now, when I started what I refer to online as the #DailyConstitutional, my daily hour or more’s walk, my rule was: no current affairs, no current news, no recent politics news, for reasons previously mentioned.

But this wasn’t modern, this wasn’t recent. It wasn’t even recent when it was broadcast; Cockerell was talking about his decades’ long career as a political journalist, and interviews he’d conducted, and especially what got cut in the edit. So there were clips from interviews that had never seen the light of day.

This clip was about Jim Callaghan, British Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979, and the only person to have held all four great offices of state: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

As the programme closed, Cockerell related a conversation he’d once had with Roy Jenkins, wherein Jenkins said [about Callaghan, who hadn’t gone to university] that he’d never before come across such a powerful personality linked with such a lack of intellect.

Jenkins, of course, was one of four university educated men that Callaghan had beaten to the Labour Leadership, and to the office of Prime Minister, when he went for it in 1976. When Cockerell then quoted Jenkins to Callaghan, and said that the view was shared by others, Callaghan had laughed, and then he came out with one of the greatest political quotes I’ve ever heard:

“It’s true, although I think I was probably cleverer then they thought I was. Yes, I haven’t got a huge intellect. But then again, I became Prime Minister… and they didn’t.”

And that’s when I laughed and thought… “yeah, Michael would have liked that; he’d really really have liked that”.

I don’t think of my brother every day; I’d be lying if I said I did. But when I think of him, there’s not been a single time I’ve not missed him.

And I kind of think he’d have liked that as well.


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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