Memories of trauma are very painful, but happy memories hurt sometimes, too. Just differently. Yesterday, I made my best friend a traditional English custard tart. Gas marks changed to degrees Fahrenheit, and cooking time changed from 40 minutes to 60. Other than that, though, it was the exact same recipe I’d made loads of times before. But as I cooked, I felt ghosts of memories dancing about me. Painful happy memories. I saw my family devouring a freshly-made tart, not even bothering to let it chill even though they all preferred it that way. I saw my sister as a very small child eyeing the oven with anticipation. Laughter, love, family. Things were chaotic and violently dangerous at times, yes, but they were my family, and that was our home. I really miss them.
Feelings toward abusers can be complicated. I don’t mean in the formal Stockholm Syndrome way, but rather in the just human way. When my father died, my brother-of-choice told me he knew my father did Really Bad Things but recognised, as well, that he had been my father. That has stuck with me some nine years later. It was a profound statement, really, and encapsulates the point of this post. Sometimes people assume that survivors will feel happy, relieved, or any number of ‘positive’ emotions when their abusers die. That’s often not the case. Most of us *knew* our abusers quite well. I didn’t develop attachment to trainers or abusers in the organised cult group, but I did love my parents as parents. I felt their losses just as any other child would have done.
Looking back on happier times is, in my opinion, very necessary. It’s a lovely thing to remind me that my past isn’t *all* bad, and it keeps me semi-sane. However, it’s also a reminder of what was lost. Grief is, paradoxically, a consequence of deep love, and I’m fortunate to have had that kind of love in my life. Still, reminders of those losses can cut through to the centre of me, and they sometimes come at the most unexpected of times. A custard tart and a hundred happy memories of a family that has gone. I keep them with me and tell the good parts of their stories whenever I get the chance. The old adage that ‘love never dies’ gives a bit of false hope. Love might not die, but it certainly transforms into something a little sadder than before. Happy memories couched in pain. Reminders of not only what was lost but also what made those people important in the first place.