Memoir, just to clarify, is a personal account of a portion of someone's life -- usually a life-changing portion, or why bother. It's sort of like biography, except usually memoir is limited to an event, and does not include the entire life from conception to present. Memoir has a little story, a plot, a narrative line, and in order to sell them, should thus have a bit of tension, and drama, and surprise.
I opted, as a historian, to use memoir in very limited ways despite its non-fiction status. I found, in my dissertation where I was interested in language at a particular time (what people were saying/thinking about certain issues during a certain set of years), that the language changed significantly regarding the event as the person aged. Society's views on the event (say, a war) changed significantly over the course of 30-40 years, and thus the way one explained what happened to them shifted to fit the new way of viewing things. As a crude example: a person might have thought a war was a terrible thing when they were in it, but 30 years later, society thinks everyone who went through that war is a hero; thus the person's (hi)story becomes about being a hero, not some shlub who happened to be present for the mundane to the monstrous. I should add here that the facts did not necessarily change, but they might have been slightly embellished, or perhaps things were left out, in order to conform to the way the narrator now thought about things in his own head. The authors of such memoirs, I believe, did not suffer from psychosis, nor were they liars (they did not fabricate being in the war altogether like the recent outed parties), but they did want to sell their books, and get their story out there. Their very memories -- and really their very own histories and lives -- became subject to the times, and the passage of time.
I read memoir, for my professional and personal reasons, with a big
I of course say this without having read a memoir about something deeply personal to me, and then found out it was a lie. There is something to be said for the personal and monetary pain caused when the upfront claim that what follows is true turns out to be a big pile of bullshit. Should I stumble across a personal ground-breaking memoir on child loss and then find out the person made it up, I would probably look said person up and not-very-politely cram their book down his/her throat. But what if the book changed me somehow? Moved me? Dramatically shifted how I thought about things? Would it matter?
So to bring this around to the point lest this become a lit-crit blog and we all break out in groups and start drafting essays: Although I hold back facts in real life (I don't know that my genetics are my neighbors' business, nor do I think they would care), I hold back very little here. Most of that is strictly therapeutic; part of that is some small, wee, tiny, glint of hope that maybe, just maybe, someone will google Maddy's problems and realize there's a similarity between her and a child they know.
But I wonder what will happen as years pass. The memories now are so bright they give me migraines, and I often wish I could just box them up and remove them from my head entirely. But I also recall, after reading some fresh loss blogs, those endless loops of ten-minute intervals that used to keep me up at night. They don't any more. I remember what Maddy looks like, but I'm aided incredibly by photographs. I remember what she felt like, what her hand felt like, her hair, but am I influenced by Bella's touch? As I detailed her final hours for this blog, I obviously left out some things I figured were incidental and didn't further the story, but they advanced my story. If I don't write those points down, will they slip away too? Will this narrative change as the years go on? Become shorter? Will the details fray at the edges until the story simply becomes, "we lost a child, she lived roughly a week, and we don't know why"? I worry now, just year out, that my wish may be coming true, and I may already be forgetting things, forgetting her. I never want to forget her, and don't think I could. But will the way I think about her, and this point of my life change? Probably. And how will that change the story?
I still dream about someday being hit by a bolt of lightning while aimlessly doing Jumble or something, and suddenly realizing why Maddy was here. Why it happened to us. Why she was only here six days. What positively wonderfully powerful life-transforming thing I'm to do or believe now in her honor, that I wouldn't have otherwise if she hadn't have died. If that happens, and I do find that elusive thing, will it change the story? Right now the story is painful and horrible, and I can't every imagine it being any other way. It's heartache and -break, it's tragedy, it's pointless. The rest-stops and punctuation marks for me are the grimmest of moments. But as my life continues, and I get further away, will other points of that week come into focus as those drift away? I can't remember the nurses names any more (the ones I thought would live with me forever), or much about the babies in the cribs who surrounded Maddy (who I often thought were her only "friends"). Am I just forgetful or forgetting the unimportant? Will the story eventually change to encompass this forgetfulness, or will I look it up or write it off with "that delightful nurse with an Irish-sounding name"?
Will it matter?