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“It’s Déjà vu all over again.” – Yogi Berra


Involuntary memories occur during the grieving process when you are faced with grief triggers that unconsciously bring up recollections of the past.  They are called IAMS for involuntary aware memories or involuntary autobiographical memories. Marcel Proust was the first person to use the term involuntary memory in his novel “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”), calling it the “essence of the past.” I refer to them as grief triggers because they crop up spontaneously, when you least expect it.  You are literally side-lined with the overwhelming feelings of involuntary memories in the shower, while driving, when listening to a sentimental song, or even when the smell of donuts wafts by.  Once the involuntary memories hit, they form a chain reaction, taking your breath away as you relive a recollection which brings deep and profound sadness to your very core.  This chain reaction which I dub an “aftershock,” is primed by this involuntary memory, and your emotions go haywire trying restore your equilibrium.

When I was deep in the throes of the early part of my grieving, it was all I could do to survive these aftershocks.  I would be driving along and a wave of involuntary memories hit so hard, it felt like I had been sucker-punched in the gut.  I had to pull my car over to the side of the road and sob until the pain abated.  These aftershocks came fast and furiously at the slightest provocation.  They were all too unpredictable, but I realized that the hot shower brought them on most often.  That was all right since I was dripping with hot water and now was dripping tears in a place that was hidden and safe.  The car was also a scene of involuntary memories and I often screamed out loud in the closeness of my vehicle, which I safely pulled to the side of the road when the grief triggers were set off.

As I began to work through my grief, I found that the aftershocks abated and the involuntary memories brought a more positive feeling.  In my first and second year of grief, the memories were so painful, they knocked my socks off, literally.  Every time I thought of Peter, my eyes would brim with tears and I would become a faucet unattractively dripping from my nose and eyes!  But lately, I am now able to feel those involuntary memories as a connection to Peter.  I find that when the grandkids and I are eating dinner together and we mention “Duke,” his pet name, we laugh at how much he would have loved being at this fabulous Chinese restaurant, noisily slurping up soup dumplings.  When I am getting ready to go out, I feel Peter’s presence and him saying “damn, you look good!” which brings a smile to my face.  When I walk along the ocean, I grin, with a few tears in my eyes, thinking of how much he would have loved to be here.

I will never lose my connection with Peter.  Unexpected memories no longer devastate me, and can actually make me emit a smile occasionally.  I can’t bring Peter back, but these momentary grief triggers can keep his memory close to my heart.  As I adjust to my new life of “acceptably different,” I will use these involuntary memories to help fill the void in my life without Peter.  My hope is that one day, I will be grateful for these involuntary memories which will keep Peter forever nestled in my heart.

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Laurie is the author of the book The Joke’s Over You Can Come Back Now: How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived. She can be contacted via her website: or Facebook or Instagram




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