The Mighty Logo

What It’s Like to Experience Memory Loss With Grief

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I have always had a fairly good memory. I remember names. I remember faces. I remember events. It’s not perfect, but I can generally be counted on to recall, and a drink or two will not affect this.

Recently, a friend told a story about a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, shared by friends. I encouraged him to make the dish again soon so I could partake, only to be informed that I had been there. I had shared that meal with my friends, yet I had no memory of it.

There is always an explanation, and mine is related to pain and grief. For those surrounding years of my life, I was hurting and grieving, and my body and mind paid the price for it.

When you are in pain and when you are grieving, everything about you is affected. There isn’t enough energy to do anything properly, and we lose our ability to focus, to think or to remember. In my case, this particular piece of my brain — the piece charged with remembering — well, it took a particularly harsh beating.

Bouts of forgetfulness change how we live our daily lives and plan our schedules. I adapted by developing an insanely complex spreadsheet to keep track of my tasks, events and work appointments. When I attend a meeting, I no longer take “notes.” Instead, I bring my phone and a bluetooth keyboard and I write everything down. I type quickly, oftentimes without discriminating important from unimportant. I will use that stream of consciousness from the leaders and the followers later on, when I am again alive and able to process the events and do my job.

During the period of grief I had, perhaps four or five years long and counting, I knew at a basic level this was happening. There were people who said they met me whom I didn’t remember, and a few bike rides, brewery visits and dinners that I don’t recall very clearly. I was able to observe this deterioration of my memory devices even through the fog. I watched cautiously and fearfully. It is only recently that I realized the good memories go out with the bad.

I have coped by trying to forget, to push away and in some cases to pretend it never happened. That worked fine for me; I became very good at coping with all that had happened.

Now, I see that all along there was a flaw in my plan. There is a defect in my handling of grief that I will regret for years to come. By ignoring and not facing the pain and the hurt, I have inadvertently wiped clean the good with the bad. It hurt to learn that from my brain a good memory had been lost. Many happy memories have been lost.

Despite this period of ongoing grief and despite the pinch I feel when I notice that I don’t remember, I am very thankful for a few good friends. They took me on adventures and we all cooked dinners together, no matter my state of consciousness, awareness, or pain. What’s more they took pictures. I hope they realize how often I look at those digital albums they shared and the quick pics they often dropped into our messaging groups. I appreciate so often how they helped me through and how their actions then continue to help me today. Back then, they carried me through experiences and added positive memories to my life. And when I can’t seem to do even that — to remember — they remember and capture them for me and return them later on. I’m so grateful for that.

Follow this journey on

Photo by Fineas Gavre on Unsplash.
Originally published: November 19, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home