When a crime is committed, and there are witnesses, police interview and gather eye-witness accounts. Most people are aware that this type of account is flawed. Each person interviewed will remember things differently, even if they were standing next to one another.
Yet, in our own lives, we often swear we remember something exactly the way it happened.
If you journal, and you’ve ever gone back and read older entries, you’ve likely come across something that doesn’t read exactly the way your mind remembers it happening. Time has passed, you’ve thought of the event many times since, possibly even discussed it with others and taken on their memories of it as well.
“A memory isn’t a perfect stored representation of the event. It’s not a photograph, snapshot, or movie of our lives. When we encode something we store salient aspects, things that stand out and things we find important. What those things are also depends on you, your past experiences, and your knowledge. Different aspects stand out or are important to different people.” — Fabian van den Berg, Neuropsychologist
Depending on the person recounting the memory, minor details to major differences can be present. When it comes to reporting a crime, for example, this can be a serious issue. But when it comes to our own personal memories, does it matter?
Yes and no.
When it comes to a lost loved one, I’ve found that most memories I have tend to be good ones. I believe this is the norm, as we’re all taught not to speak ill of the dead. Prime examples from my life, would be my Dad and my paternal grandparents. They were all important people in my life and the majority of my interactions with them were positive. My Dad especially, had his issues and personal demons, but those aren’t things that defined him as a person, to me.
I write a lot about his struggles with mental illness, not as a way to demonize it or him, but as a way to help others coping with some of the same issues. To let others know that they are not alone. It’s one of the ways I choose to memorialize him, and honor him as my Dad, and a person who lived with multiple mental illness throughout his life.
In no way do I mean to say that any of these good people were perfect. But I also see no reason to speak ill of them, or to recount what few times I remember being angry with them or them with me. It does nothing for me, or for their memory.
But, there are two sides to every coin.
I recently read an essay by another writer about her experiences with a family member who is no longer alive versus her sibling’s experience with the same family member. The writer was abused by this family member, and did not have fond memories at all. She writes about her abuse and experiences often. Her sibling took offense to this, as they had a completely different relationship with the deceased.
Our experiences are our own, and we are entitled to our stories.
Just as much as the writer has the right to her stories, so does the sibling. This is a lesson from which we can all benefit. We may have a negative experience, therefore negative memories, attached to people that others think of as a totally different person.
That doesn’t make us, or them, wrong. It makes us different.
The way it was, in our minds, will rarely ever be the way it was for someone else. When it comes to our memories, we may not be able to fully trust them, but at times, they are all we have. Make the most of them.