Sensory Memory and Grief

By: Matthew Funeral Home
Monday, June 5, 2023

Memories of lost loved ones can play a major part in our grief. If you see an old photo or an object that reminds you of a memory, you may be flooded with emotions. Sensory memories are those triggered by familiar smells, sounds, and tastes. These memories can be even more evocative of the moments that we associate with them. Sensory memories can often come from unexpected places, and can bring up memories you may have forgotten about. After the loss of a loved one, sensory memories can bring up memories of them in unexpected ways.

Sense Memory and Grief

Memories triggered by the senses are not necessarily a bad thing. In many cases, sensory memories can bring you back to happier times and wonderful moments in your life. The reason that these memories can sometimes be associated with grief is that they may remind us of those who we have lost. Memories of days spent with a mom, or a spouse can bring up strong emotions of happiness. But those emotions can be muddled by the grief we feel through such loss.
Overall, the reason that sense memories can affect our grief is that they bring us back to a time when the loved ones associated were still alive. When you are still coping with grief, being overwhelmed by a beautiful memory of that person can be very emotional. But, it can also be an opportunity to remember some of the most intimate parts of our lives.

Scents and Smells

The scent is one of the strongest senses involved in memory. One reason for this could be the path that olfactory senses take through the brain. The nerves that process scents travel through the parts of the brain that relate to emotions and memory. Specific scents may bring about strong memories from your past. Scents like a loved one’s cologne can bring about memories. Uncommon scents, like specific foods, a type of flower, and more can trigger memories through scents. Even some bad smells can bring up the past.

Taste and Sense Memory

Taste is often associated with the sense of smell, but sometimes certain flavors can transport you back to old memories. Consider the scene in Ratatouille where the critic tastes the dish that instantly brings him back to his early childhood. Many people associate their favorite foods with memories of their childhood; cooking with a grandparent, or a meal during a major event in their life. 

Sounds and Hearing

Specific sounds can also play a part in sensory memories. Sounds of cooking in the kitchen, a crackling campfire, or a certain song can trigger memories that are associated with them. 
On the other hand, sometimes silence can speak volumes. A lack of sound in familiar places can make it difficult to not experience grief. This is common in people who have lost a spouse. It can be hard adjusting to life without a snoring partner next to you after so many years.

Focusing On Good Memories

While sensory memories can remind us of strong feelings and memories, they can also remind us of what we lost. It is important to acknowledge these feelings of grief but to also focus on the positive memories that we associate them with. Sensory memory triggers can come unexpectedly, but it is important to focus on the beautiful moments themselves, not the grief you feel today. 

The author of this post is not a professional therapist or counselor. For assistance in finding a grief counselor that is right for you, there are a number of resources out there. For our Grief Resource center, written by Dr. Bill Webster, click here
For almost 50 years, Matthew Funeral Home has been serving the Staten Island community. We can help with almost every aspect of your loved one’s memorial service. Our family is here to serve yours, every step of the way.

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