This will be a personal post about a recent experience and how it connected to some thoughts I have been carrying around for a while.
I recently attended the funeral of a friend. Although I have had some losses and arranged funerals myself, this one was quite different. It was my first friend funeral, someone my own age, in the same life phase, someone who is a part of groups of people that up to now have had no empty seats.
This added a dimension to the experience. The sadness was accompanied by a feeling of reflection, not only reflection as in thinking, but really reflection. Looking at yourself in the mirror of someone’s absence. Being reminded of transience, of all the clichés about one’s own mortality. But not only that, also an intense wave of gratitude over having a functioning body, legs that run and lungs that expand to embrace a new breath of air. And the very valuable occasion to run an inner check-up. Am I on track? Am I moving in a direction aligned with my compass? What about this unique person that I will never ever again have a coffee and exchange ideas with is it that I will remember the most? What has she inspired in me – and how can I cherish that in the best possible way? Where will I find the reminders?
You know of course where I am going here. We know that our brains are created in a way that links our memories, feelings and scents to each other in an unavoidable way. We have stored memories and associations linked to scents. Smelling something takes us back in a second to something we felt, saw, experienced a long time ago in a second and turns the past into the present. We know this and the map is drawn in literature as well as in research. Smells are used in therapy to unlock traumatic memories so they can be treated. I have been carrying and idea around to spend some time working with elderly people and smells to help them reconnect with memories of things that created their identity. From what I can see, there is much much much to be done with the pro-active use of smells though. We can create memories and olfactive tools that support them. This means that not only can we support a person going through severe health challenges by providing them with scents that will connect them to positive memories and feelings – even create a sense of presence of people who can’t be there with them. (Yes, I do believe there is something supportive for a very ill parent to have a garment that smells of their child with them close for example). But, also, and here comes the sadder part – we cannot keep a person alive just with smells, but if we do lose someone – we can use smells to help ourselves stay close to the memories of them and to revoke the feelings of happy moments shared together. There are many children who have lost a parent and are not able to “find” them emotionally. Many lovers who would find something special in the smell of a person that is no longer there. My point is, knowing as much as we do about the connection between feelings, memories and smells – we can use that knowledge more pro-actively.
I will associate losing my friend with the amazing romantic flower decorations at the funeral she designed herself. In fact I will also think of her when I see, smell or eat green apples because she chose to have that song played at the end of the service, But I will also remember her when I eat chocolate and chili ice cream from a particular tiny Italian ice cream and coffee place here in Stockholm where we met one day to exchange some ideas. And these aromas will remind me of the value of welcoming people’s ideas and lifting them higher. Because that is what I associate with her more than anything else.
To me unconditional love smells of chicken soup. Because that’s the first smell that I felt every time I got out of a car in front of my grandmother’s house as a child. Airport, car, open window, chicken soup, warm embrace. My brain will never question this logic. Just like the aromas in Korean food are synonymous with all the lessons I learned in my first serious relationship about what true intellectual partnership and respect is.
How can you remind people in your life of how much you care and of who you are? Which odors, smells, fragrances, scents carry your values? Which ones can you create new memories with together with people you love?