I have two brothers and a sister.  The four of us were together recently. The gathering was for our oldest sister’s funeral.  These are always times for remembering.  We talked and told stories. As always, it was an interesting experience because it sometimes seems like we didn’t grow up together.  We talk about a given memory of a given event and it was almost like we weren’t at the same event.  We all remembered different things about it.  

In a recent conversation with a friend who has been studying the science of the brain, I discovered that the mind remembers in snap-shots.  And they are not taken with a wide-angle lens.These images are rather narrowly focused and there is limited peripheral vision.  Because the brain has a series of still photo that are connected to any given memory, we have to create a narrative around the images to make sense out of them. 

I think the narrative that is developed around the snap-shots is strongly effected by the emotional impact of the event.  For one person, the event might have been very painful.  For another it might have been deeply confusing.  For yet another, it might have had little emotional impact.  When we sit around and remember together, the narratives we create around the particular events becomes the truth about what happened.  And we can argue about whose memory is closest to the actual reality of the event.

But, I am not sure arguing is the best way to use our time. I don’t have to be right.  What I want to do is to stretch my understanding of our past with the narratives and perspectives of my siblings.  What was in my peripheral vision may have been the center of the photo for my sibling.  If I am able to see more clearly the snap-shot that they have captured, and if I can understand better the narrative they have created around the photo, I can develop a deeper appreciation for the complexity and rich texture of the life we lived.  

And who knows, I may even adapt my narrative and gain more insight into the way I act and the way I feel. 


Why do people seem to need to talk when they are going through a significant loss?  As I said last week, one important reason is that we need to try to put our world back together. When our relationships have been dismembered, we need to find a way to re-member them so that they can continue to exist in us as part of who we are without creating too much dissonance.

But, it is more than that.  Talking things out and telling the stories of our life and our loss is also about rediscovering meaning in life. When we lose someone or something significant, we lose touch with the construct of meaning that we have created. When we were in relationship with certain people and played a certain role in that relationship, our meaning was wrapped up with the existence of those relationships. When they end the meaning we made of our life is challenged. "Did  my life really mean what I thought it meant."

And we remember and talk our way through the loss because we also try to figure out what our life will mean in the future.  By telling our story, our life and our loss, we try to stay in touch with what we know about ourselves.  As we rehearse my life, we discover things about ourself that we think are worth developing in our future.

At it's core, this remembering and meaning making is about reconstructing faith.  We place our faith in that which helps us know how we relate to the world and what we mean to ourselves and others. This is why these losses often produce a crisis of faith. "Can I really trust that life is good, or that God is good?" "How does God really interact with this world?"

This is why it is so important that we find good companions who will pull up a chair and patiently listen to our rehearsal of our life. The re-membering of who we are and the re-constructing of meaning and how we relate to the world around us is hard work and requires all the love and support any of us can give. 


Significant relationships are rich and complex. Your relationship with someone you love is deeply conflicted and filled with tenderness and tension, desire and duty, affection and anger. Such a relationship that has lasted a long time has woven a fabric of knowing and caring that wraps itself around you and sustains you.  It is a necessary part of how you know yourself.

When that relationship ends because of death, divorce or someone moving away, the disorientation and pain can be really frightening. The temptation is to avoid the pain and to to stay busy or to depend on some drug or alcohol to protect us from feeling it so sharply.  We may just move on and pretend that it didn't really matter that much.

But as I have said, re-membering is important to the creating of a new relationship with the departed person. It helps us organize the memories of the person so that we can continue to relate to their presence that still lingers after their absence has become real.

But remembering well is also a way of shrinking the size of that person's presence in our lives so that it becomes "pocket-sized". When that presence is smaller, there is room for new life.  It is helpful to remember the person long enough and well enough that you can create some small reminder of the essence of the meaning that person had in our lives. When their presence becomes memorial-sized, we are able to honor their memory but move forward to grow the new relationships that will enrich and sustain us.

This is why nations and cities create memorials of significant events in their history.  The past matters. Memorials honor the complexity and the rich meaning of events where fundamental change occurred and many sacrificed so much as a result of the event. But, the past can't control the future. It needs to be honored but not become a prison.  Memorials help us remember and be free to move forward into the new world.

When you lose someone significant in your life, create a memorial that can remind you of their meaning for you and free you to live the new life that you have been given.


One thing people who  have had a significant loss often hear is "You have to forget it and move on." It is the desire of friends that we continue to live our lives. They don't want us to hurt and they don't like the feelings they have when we do hurt.

But, when things fall apart, one of the most natural thing to do is to "re-member".  When things are broken and scattered, we want to put them back the way they were.  We want to "re-member" them.  That way we don't have to deal with the pain of brokenness or the the chaos of scattered pieces of our lives.

But, I think re-membering is also important because that which is lost needs to be integrated into the life that we live moving forward. The loss of someone or something that has been significant in our self-identity has to be processed in a way that we can move forward. Our past doesn't just disappear.  It isn't simply forgotten.  Our past has to be reintegrated into the self that is moving forward.

So my recommendation is that we re-member our past so that it can be integrated into our new life as part of who we are but in a different relationship to  our lives.  Whereas it might have been central to the way we do things, now, it might be more peripheral.  If your job was central to your self-understanding when you were employed, it now may be important for your understanding of who you have been and who you might be, but it isn't as central to who you are right now.  It has to be re-membered in a way that you can carry it forward in your life to give you courage and strength to move into the unknown future.

So, re-member well.  The past remains part of who you are becoming.