We don’t always remember everything correctly. Don’t you agree? For example, there was that time I was absolutely certain I’d been at a funeral in 1979 where the song Purple Rain by Prince was played. However, my younger sister reminded me that Purple Rain didn’t come out until the 1980s. So I looked it up and, sure enough, that song came out in 1984. My friend had definitely died five years earlier, so unless there were ghosts around somewhere my memory of that song was dead wrong. My point is we sometimes forget how things went. (It turns out I finally remembered that Purple Rain had been sung at another funeral, a number of years later.)
Adding to the muddlement of our memories, we’re masters at sugar coating the bad times after the distance of time blurs the images of them in our minds. So here are a few tips for digging down to uncover as many accuracies as possible. (However, I reserve the right to declare that we each have a right to our own chosen point of view, accurate or curated.)
Draw a Life Timeline
For major events in your life, draw out a timeline with notes about the dates when they occurred. This can be a fun activity where you can be a creative – or non-creative – as you’d like. You can make it psycho-analytical and complicated or simply draw a line with written notes. Or you can draw pictures and color them in. Make a painting. Do it with scrapbooking. Embroider it on a pillow. It doesn’t matter. Just make clear what and how things happened.
This helps you clarify those spots where the line doesn’t make sense. You might need to do a little research and digging into the past to straighten it out.
Talk to Elder Family Members, Friends, and Acquaintances
It’s interesting how people remember things differently. When you do this, you’ll find an elder aunt who says your granddad died when you were three but your granddad’s best friend will say, no, you were four. Compare and contrast, and once again do some digging to get to the truth. In other words, we all have lapses in memory, so you don’t want to necessarily count on one person’s account as being the end-all-be-all.
In fact, to illustrate this point to my students, I do an activity where they have to recall a list of words. After I’ve read down a long list of simple words out loud, they have to write them down. Then I chart how accurate they are. It’s almost always the same: They remember the beginning and the end, but forget a lot of stuff in the middle. It’s like that for most of us.
Uncover Old Wounds — and Heal Them
There is an enormous catharsis that occurs when writing your memoir. It’s a healing process. If your memoir is going to have meaning, you want to tell the real story. Sometimes that story isn’t pretty. Rather than dressing it up to try to make it look better, dig down to your thoughts and emotions at the time of the event. Carefully consider the best ways to share those feelings so that they are raw and real, but healing as well. Somehow you survived and here you are, writing your story. How did you get here? What pulled you through? How can you help others make it, too?
Of course, you’re going to write in ways that won’t put you in harm’s way by another or get you sued. But, still, you are going to tell your story. You have a right to tell it. Do so with care, calm, and consideration. In the end, your goal is to show others that you survived and they can, too.
Managing your memories can be daunting, but it can be done. In the end, it will bring you peace of mind to have all of those bits of your life put together in a way that finally makes sense. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.