Memoir writing
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Memoir Bytes – When Private Moments are no Longer Private

Memoir writing


Both my parents lay side by side in their respective graves, and quite possibly in the ever after. I’m not certain about the happy ever after because we can only assume there is peace and congeniality on the other side.


Twenty-six years ago yesterday, January 9, 1991, we buried our father.

After 26 years of my father laying peacefully by himself, finally finding peace from his ailing and broken heart, he awaited my mother’s arrival for all those years, for her to be buried beside him. We buried her there just over 2 years ago. He got his wish to have my mother with him in eternity after pining for her all the years without her while on earth. But I can’t help but wonder if it was a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ or if something magical happens on the other side where even the coldest of hearts can become humble.

I can only hope he’s still at peace.

I’m writing this here because of a conversation I had with my sister awhile ago. My sister, like me, still talks to our dad frequently and visits his grave in times of despair when in need of some solace. While he was alive, my dad was always there for us, and his departure from this world never changed the way we felt about him in our hearts. My sister told me a story about how she recently went to visit Dad, poured her heart out to him, had a meltdown, then felt an inner peace after her tearful release. I listened to her story with a heaviness in my own heart for her own weight of loss and for my recollections about how many times I’ve gone there and done the same.

As is customary for us when we visit the grave of a loved one, we leave a token behind to mark our visit. Often that token can be flowers, a coin, or anything we may happen to have on our person we wish to rest around the headstone. At the very least, we can pick up a pebble or rock and leave that instead.

My sister finished her story by telling me she had a tiny angel in her pocket that a friend had recently given her and she placed it on our father’s grave. I couldn’t help but ask her, “What about Mom’s grave?” She hung her head as though in shame as she continued to tell me she had picked up a small stone and placed it on our mother’s grave but couldn’t bring herself to say anything to her.

In her next breath she said, “I feel horrible that I was talking to Dad and didn’t talk to her. I feel like a terrible daughter because it didn’t bother me that I ignored her.”

I told my sister not to feel horrible. That was how we lived our life with our mother, always dodging her as best we could to avoid conversation with her, in fear whatever we said would stir her wraths or opinions, a cycle which repeated itself throughout our entire lives.

I tried to console my sister as best I could because I too have those same strange, uncomfortable feelings now when I visit my father, no longer alone in his peaceful place where I always felt comfortable and free to speak to him in private. After 24 years of being able to confide in him one on one, my sister and I both feel as though we should be including our mother in our conversation, yet we can’t bring ourselves to do so even after her passing.

Some people have a way of burying the past once the death of a loved one with whom they may have shared a troubled relationship with, passes. And other people like us, can’t seem to change what’s been engraved in our hearts for our entire lives. I told my sister I understand how she feels, even though our reasons are slightly different for feeling at unease, hers because she felt nothing of it, and mine because I still feel guilty excluding my mother when I visit my dad. But I reminded my sister that I have found my way to forgiveness for our mother’s sins and I’ve learned that I no longer feel like a horrible daughter, just sad for our lives with her and for her own lonely life and how pathetic her life was when it ended.

It’s difficult to visit the grave of a parent you couldn’t share anything with in life, a parent that made us nervous just being in her mere presence, a parent who wasn’t a parent, and then perhaps expected her children to feel differently once she left this earth.

So as was in our life, when my sister and I always tried to our best to ‘do the right thing’ by our mother, we remain respectful and acknowledge we have visited by leaving behind a simple stone, respect, but choose to keep our conversations with our dad private as we always did while he was alive.

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D.G. Kaye is a nonfiction/memoir writer, who writes from her own life experiences and self-medicates with a daily dose of humor.


  • Stevie Turner

    Heartfelt and poignant post. Thanks for sharing. My father doesn’t have a grave, and so I speak to him whenever I feel like it and wherever I am. I’ve no idea if he’s listening. I put a flower by his photo on his birthday and the anniversary of his passing. All I can do is hope that he sees it.

    • dgkaye

      Thanks for sharing Stevie. So true, I speak to my dad all the time from anywhere also. It’s those special occasions I feel the need to go to his grave. Even though I feel his soul is everywhere and anywhere, the arrival of my mother beside him has changed the way those visits feel, that’s what I wanted to share of the article. 🙂


    It makes me sad to read this post. I don’t know if the following will help but here goes. When we wed we vow one to the other, “until death do us part”. Your mother’s vessel might be buried next to your dad but their soul’s might be in different places, When we leave this earth what we leave behind of ourselves is how we will be remembered. We are not attached any more. I personally do not believe in burying my body in the ground. I have spoken to my husband and children and my wishes will and better be complied with, I had wonderful parents, not perfect but wonderful each in their own way. They or what they left behind lives in my heart each in a different way. My mom passed away 43 years ago and my dad 40 years ago, I have never been to their graves because the essence of what they left me still dwells within me, so you and your sister go ahead and speak to your dad and don’t feel guilty about your mom because until death do us part is what it means.
    Side note; Remind me to tell you the story about my sisters father-in-law one day. It will confirm everything I have told you here. Also the one about my mom. Both will give you the chills.
    Smile, go ahead I know you want to. xo

    • dgkaye

      Thank you so much Patricia for leaving your beautiful message. I understand what you are saying, and about ’til death do we part’, and my parents were apart for several years when my father passed. What you say makes a lot of sense, and will take time to compute because you have to remember, we lived in discomfort and fear around my mother while she lived, so having her grave right beside my father’s after so many years is still a bit intimidating.
      And I’d love to hear your stories, I love your stories. 🙂 Thank you again. <3

  • Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    It must be very difficult Debby.. for 24 years your father’s grave was a sanctuary and a place essentially talk things out and come to a solution of problems. But because we do not know exactly what is on the other side and who might be listening it is now a different place. If by any chance your mother is listening perhaps it might offer her the chance to heal too. ♥

  • Judith Barrow

    Oh, Debby, this is such a moving post. And a difficult one. I have no answers but you have received some very empathetic and wise comments above. After reading PS-I Forgive You I know you found some peace but I understand your thoughts here. I know, from what you’ve said in the past, that you have a life partner by your side to understand and comfort. X

    • dgkaye

      Thanks so much Judith. Yes, I have forgiven and truly moved on in my heart. There’s just something about going to the actual grave that brings back those uncomfortable moments around my mother. Once I found serenity there for over 2 decades, no I prefer to have my little conversations right here in my own home. No matter how much we heal, it can still be intimidating to go back. 🙂 <3

  • Sue Dreamwalker

    Wow Debby,
    This post touched me deeply.. As you may well expect..
    and I was nodding my head along with your words when you wrote

    “But I reminded my sister that I have found my way to forgiveness for our mother’s sins and I’ve learned that I no longer feel like a horrible daughter, just sad for our lives with her and for her own lonely life and how pathetic her life was when it ended.”

    I think that is the only way too move on.. for a long time I held deep guilt and a feeling that somehow everything was my fault.. Even though I went over and over ever aspect of our relationship.. And even therapists told me that my mother had been manipulative throughout all of my life shaping how high I jumped in life..

    It was only seeing how lonely she really was, and how much she had missed out on all her grandchildren .. not only mine children but that of one of my sisters too whom she treated the same way..
    It was only her youngest child, my baby sister who went to live with her when she divorced my dad, that did no wrong.. who had everything. Whose own out look on life became just as bitter..

    I often speak to my Dad in my thoughts when I need too.. My Mother not as much.. But I do send her a thought or two now and again.. As I hope she has learnt more about love and how to share it..

    A great post Debby that I could so relate to in every way.
    Sue xx

    • dgkaye

      Thank you so much Sue for sharing your heart here. I do know that we have led similar lives in our childhood and so happy that you could relate, especially to the forgiveness part, which took us both many years to get to. I hope by my sharing, I can inspire others to find their own path to peace with similar experiences. I think that’s why you and I are compelled to be great sharers. 🙂 Peace to you my beautiful friend. xoxo <3

  • John Maberry

    It’s a difficult thing, dealing with the feelings that remain after the people we were so close to–for good or bad, are gone. I appreciate your ongoing “memoir bytes,” chronicling the memories.

    I’ve only been to my parent’s side by side graves a few times–mostly because from the time my mother passed away I spent so few years within a thousand miles of the cemetery. I do pray for them everyday but I don’t talk to them or even dream of them–it’s so long ago. They passed away in 1954 and 1963, while I was young. Coincidentally with your memoir byte, another one of my 2017 goals is to finally have that personal Buddhist memorial service for them. In fact, sometime in the next couple weeks. That will be here, in my home, not back at the cemetery nearly 1,500 miles away. The corporeal remains may be there but I don’t feel they are so I don’t need to go there. Still, when I have, it did get me talking to them.

    • dgkaye

      Thanks so much for sharing John. It is true that we don’t have to go to the actual grave to feel near a lost loved one. Many times I feel my father’s presence around or find myself randomly saying something to him. In this byte I’m sharing about how I always used to feel comfortable when visiting my father and how it changed once my mother got there. I’m much more comfortable talking to him from anywhere else now. It may be just in my imagination, but living with discomfort around my mother all my life remains even when I’m near her graveside.
      I’m glad to hear you will be doing a Buddhist memorial for your parents. It doesn’t matter how far they are or how much time has passed, the sentiment is beautiful. 🙂

    • dgkaye

      Sounded like the perfect title for my book. Yes, sadly many can relate, but we are stronger in numbers and hopefully what I share is helpful to those who’ve traveled similar paths. 🙂

  • Tina Frisco

    Deb, I’m so grateful for your continuing to shine your light into the world. As you open your heart and bare your soul, many listen and are helped. The painful memories I have of my father still surface at times. I remind myself that before I incarnated, I chose the lessons I wanted to learn in this lifetime, as did my father. I believe that he and I agreed to do this dance together. When I view the lessons and subsequent pain as a prearranged agreement between the two of us, the pain eases and I’m able to move on, once again, until the next time. And each time the painful memories arise, they’re less harsh and easier to deal with. Knowing that I’m not alone in this struggle is a blessing. Thank you for being there, for being here, for being and sharing the beautiful soul you are … ??

    • dgkaye

      Thank you for your beautiful words and for sharing your own heart Tina. Those are wise words to remember, we chose our lessons before we were born. Although we never new what to expect there were reasons for our choices, whether to take something from it in this life or to learn from and help others. Thank you my dear friend for shining your light. <3 xo

  • Bun Karyudo

    Your post was sad and very touching, Debby. It must be difficult to feel that conversations with your father are now being eavesdropped upon. It’s sad that problems created during your mother’s life are now continuing in some form after her death. I hope you and your sister find a way to resolve the issue that doesn’t leave you feeling either upset or horribly guilty.

  • adeleulnais

    I wanted to leave a comment which said how I loved this article but instead I want to send you and your sister a huge hug. You’ve both been through so much and have come out the other end, stronger and wiser. x

  • Mél@nie

    impressive and emotional, Debby… someone said ‘we become adults after we are orphans…” – I’ve been the only child of my late parents(RIP) who passed away 26 and 10 years ago… I do recall them now and then, but I never ‘speak’ to them… why?!… I believe that people who left this life – suddenly or slowly – who loved us and whom we’ve loved, continue to be present in our heart(mind)… on the other hand, I do live in the present time – here and now, and a bit in the very near future… 🙂

    • dgkaye

      Thanks for sharing that Melanie. I’m happy to hear that you have a place for your parents in your heart, as I do. Some people like me, tend to find solace at certain times in our lost loved ones by speaking with them. I live in the present but the past remains in my heart. 🙂

  • Wendy Van Camp

    I found your essay to be quite moving, DG. I too had difficult parents. When my mother passed the event proved to be traumatic for me, but afterward I never had a desire to visit her grave. I am glad to know you have found peace for yourself. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • dgkaye

      Thank you Wendy, for visiting and sharing your own experience here. It’s truly amazing to learn just how many of us have had strained relationships with our parents. 🙂

      • Wendy Van Camp

        I think it is part of what makes us artists/writers. You have to suffer a bit in order to create beauty and emotional depth. It is my hope that none of us have to “suffer” too much for our art, but it is nice to know that there is some compensation for what we experience.

        • dgkaye

          Beautifully worded Wendy. I think whether we write fiction or nonfiction, as writers, a slice of our lives will always show up on the pages. And there’s no better proof of words than from one who has lived them. 🙂

  • elainemansfield

    A sad story and a sad way to feel about parents for both you and your sister. Thank you for your poignant honesty. Maybe those deep wounds lead us to wisdom about how to treat others. You seem the opposite of your mom and I love hearing about your closeness with your sister. I’ve done lots of grave visiting to my husband’s cairn in the last 8 1/2 years–and lots of talking to him and dreaming of him at other times. I think of it as talking with the inner masculine who resides in my heart. My mother’s ashes were placed in a stream on my land the year before Vic died. She had been so long gone with Alzheimer’s that I didn’t dream about her or talk to her after her death. I was also preoccupied with Vic’s illness then.

    Deb. you wrote: “I listened to her story with a heaviness in my own heart for her demise…” I looked up the word demise to be sure, but demise means “a person’s death.” I hope your sister isn’t dying. I don’t think that’s the case.

    • dgkaye

      Elaine, thanks for always sharing some of your own experience with loss and life. And just as you mentioned that your mom at been gone so long gone with Alzheimer’s that you no longer talked to her, I can identify in another way, because my mother had been so long gone from me from being a mother that I too have nothing to say to her.
      Thank you for mentioning that dictionary look up. I always look up unfamiliar words before writing, and for years had ‘assumed’ demise was a predicament. My bad, I’m changing the term. Thank you. <3

  • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    Beautifully written. In my family the opposite was true. Not that my father meant to be off-putting, but he always seemed to do that thing that so many males do – suggestions to “fix,” usually pointing out what we did to create the problem. My mother was more a model for “seek first to understand.”

    My mother’s mother, on the other hand, seemed to look for unusual ways to make other family members feel rotten – so we all avoided interacting with her whenever possible. All three are gone now, and I am more like your sister in my response to avoiding my grandmother in death as I did in life. It was enough of a struggle to forgive her for her nastiness.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  • Aquileana

    This text is so moving… heartfelt … I love the fact that you never hold back feelings… Being open is most times a good thing…
    This excerpt truly resonated with me:
    “Some people have a way of burying the past once the death of a loved one with whom they may have shared a troubled relationship with, passes. And other people like us, can’t seem to change what’s been engraved in our hearts for our entire lives”.
    You leave me thinking, Debbie… How we might live so much more than we could have ever expected… we need to try to leave a good message, and seeds to blossom as flowers years after we are gone… and still, of course, persist in doing so when we are alive. We are Potential memories, and that´s quite a big thing!
    Sending much love! 😉

    • dgkaye

      Oh Aq, I love what you wrote here, especially ‘We are potential memories’ <3 Thank you for sharing a part of your heart here Aq, it's amazing to learn that when we open our hearts and share them that there are so many others who come forward and share their own. It's bittersweet, I'm happy that I can attract these open and kind hearts, but sad on the other hand that there can be so many of us. We must continue to leave the good messages, as seeds to blossom as flowers after we're gone, beautifully said my beautiful friend. <3 <3 xoxo

  • Annika Perry

    Debby, a very moving reflective post. I feel so for you and your sister, your wisdom and calm seems strong and able to make some sense of the variance of your visits…I can understand that your behaviour can’t change with their passing, what has happened did occur, you can’t force yourself to be untrue to yourself or the past.

    • dgkaye

      Thanks so much Annika for your lovely comment and for sharing your thoughts. It took years to get to the place I am today, and I am grateful. I had a very close bond with my father, and even death couldn’t change that. 🙂

  • Kev

    Oh my… I’m sure your father will still be at peace, Debby. He’ll have moved far out of her reach long ago.. May even have returned to start a new and much happier life by now… Who knows? ?

  • macjam47

    A very poignant post, Debby. I am not one to visit grave sites. I feel an open connection with those who have gone before and talk with them whenever and wherever I am. Like everyone else, I am not sure of what lies beyond, but I know in my heart that our loved ones can still hear us. I love my mom, but our relationship was always a stormy one, so I don’t expect our conversations to be any different now that she’s gone. I don’t know if this helps. Wishing you peace in your heart. Love and Hugs.

    • dgkaye

      Thanks so much Michelle for sharing your own personal thoughts. It is true, we don’t have to go to the grave specifically to feel a connection, it’s just something my sister and I have always done. I feel my dad around me plenty of times. And I truly believe they can hear us. As with my mother, our conversations were always strained, thus I don’t feel any more at ease talking to her now, and I don’t. It’s just easier knowing that I’m now at peace with myself for not doing so. 🙂 <3

  • Sherri

    So poignant and beautifully written Deb, and very thought-provoking. We want to show respect for the dead, particularly our parents, but you perfectly illustrate that just because someone has passed away, doesn’t mean they somehow are now to be treated like a saint. It is a mercy for your own wellbeing that you have been able to forgive your mother, yet I am deeply moved when I read of how hard it’s been for you and your sister, and the way you both miss your dear dad so very much, wanting your time alone with him, yet respecting that he wanted to be buried with his wife, your mom, at the end. We don’t seem to do graves in my family, but now left with Dad’s ashes, the feeling is for my brother and I to scatter them in a woodland not too far from us both. We donated to The Woodland Trust to buy a tree in his name in that woodland, not marked except in a book. It’s so important to have a place to go, for those private conversations. Much love and a big hug for you my dear friend <3 <3 <3

    • dgkaye

      Thanks again Sher. I know some of what you’ve gone through with your dad, again, somewhat parallel lives for us. And I don’t think it matters, buried in the ground for some, ashes for others, the point is for people like you and me is having a place we can physically go to feel that connection. Thank you for your love and support always. <3 <3 Big hugs! xoxo

  • Léa

    My father was an extremely passive, introverted schizophrenic. The “mother” a narcissistic sociopath. I loved my father because there was nobody else and I feared that if he died I would truly be alone. As a child I was able to delude myself somewhat that I wasn’t alone as long as he lived. Like my father, my foster father was an alcoholic, but he was abusive, his wife docile. The details can now safely flow onto the page and with the help of some loving friends, I continue to heal. Instead of trying to talk to those who don’t listen, I just write…

    • dgkaye

      Thank you for sharing your heart and your story Lea. So many of us have traveled similar roads it seems, albeit in different ways. I’m sorry for your dysfunctional childhood, but I am happy to hear that you have found a way to heal in writing, as I did. Writing is cathartic, and in doing so, we somehow find those that do hear our words. 🙂

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