I’ve written about the inherent reflective nature of my loss and grief and how memories of Donna and our life would come in fits and starts. These moments become fulcrums to move my life forward and advance my self knowledge, us (Donna & I), and living in this world. This simple idea of 'I remember this' becomes more complex when examined from what is not remembered. We don’t know what we don’t know. Like wise you don’t remember what you don’t remember. Therefore participating with your grief and the memories it serves up offers knowledge, understand, and peace.
Donna did not dwell on her illness. She did not openly fear her eminent death. She gave me her illness to manage. Any thoughts of death any fear of death were held tightly in her heart. Donna wanted to remain alive and to live as she always had, on her terms. The interruptions of doctor visits, treatments, side effects, and pain was when she stopped to recognize the disease. As quickly as that happened it disappeared into my hands. My area of expertise/skill was managing the day to day disease. Getting her, nah going with her, to all appointments. Making pill packs at home.
I’ve attributed this division of labor to Donna’s desire to be emotionally free from her disease, it was not about denial as much as it was about division of labor. As a couple, I suspect like most couples, we’ve always had a division of labor. I would do the cooking. Donna would buy the kitchen items, dishes, pots, pans, etc. since they had to fit with the design of our home her visual eye. I would be the one to change the sheets. Donna selected the sheets and cases.
It turns out that this is Transactive Memory. Transactive Memory is the fact people in continuing relationships (in organizations as well) become specialized in different functions of labor within the relationship. Part of that specialization is the ability or skill set where the various members of the relationship manages different knowledge domains. One partner may remember all the details of what is needed to manage specific a area, Donna knew what sheets, shams, duvets, etc. that went with what for each season. While I would be the one to change the sheets in a heartbeat. This is Transactive Memory. We used each others memories as our own. I didn’t not need to know color or style. Donna didn’t need to know how to make clarified butter or a hospital corner. Additional reading on this fascinating topic, Transactive memory systems scale for couples, Transactive Memory in Close Relationships, and Transactive Memory Theory.
Transactive Memory in romantic relations improves self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness. Add to these benefits emotional support, companionship, and security. (Donna and I felt so very secure around each other and with each other.) It is postulated that romantic partners pool cognitive resources to increase our collective memories/information with less work. This pool of cognitive resources created a rich network of memories for us and after her death for me.
"Additionally, because people know about each other’s expertise (and non-expertise) they can make judgments about the reliability and value of any information conveyed. It is easy to see how a shared transactive memory system might work to help couples navigate their daily lives with ease and efficiency."
The interesting part about Transactive Memory is that the theory and research shows that it is about the transaction or communications between members or a couple to encode, store, and retrieve information. Donna could give me a look and I knew what needed to be done. Or I could look perplexed and she would jump in. At the center of this theory is cognitive interdependence where the individuals depend on the knowledge of others and the outcomes are dependent on their knowledge. I learned to cook as a child. Donna was not a cook. So cooking became my knowledge area.
“...recruited couples who had been together for at least 3 months, and found that they used each other as extensions of their own memories, outperforming pairs of strangers at remembering category exemplars in different areas of expertise (for example science, food, spelling)."
Those memories (skills) Donna had died with her. Though they were effectively removed from my heart they were not lost as much as witnesses to deficits in my life now. Twice a year when I am faced with changing the shames and duvet I remember what I didn’t remember, Donna did this. This loss is not the same as loss and grief of Donna but the reality that we played well together and made each other better. I grieve for that balance between us where we as Donna and Mark would create new and better and do faster and more effectively.
When you remember what you don’t remember the hurt is as real for a moment and then it finds a place to reside in your life to nourish your heart.