Confronting Time’s Impact on Memories


After Dave, my husband, died unexpectedly in late 2015, I began to frantically look all over the house for the watch I had given him on our wedding day. It was nowhere to be found. I became fixated on its whereabouts even though he hadn’t been wearing it much before his death.

In random moments, I had glimpses of it, only to be disappointed by a different watch or another piece of jewelry. I pawed through drawers, I searched behind the nightstand and underneath the dresser, I emptied the pockets of his suit jackets, and I begged the Universe to help me find it.

This watch epitomized my sense of losing him and then, not being able to find him.

Days went by and accumulated into years. I began to think less often about it, yet still kept an alert diligence for it. I told myself it would turn up when I least expected and when I most needed it. Even so, hope of finding it began to dwindle. I slowly began to lose the energy required to search for it.

Then one day, just a few months shy of the sixth year anniversary of his death, Dave’s computer locked me out. The blue security screen informed me that a 48 digit code was needed to unlock it, and it could be sent to the email account of the owner. Dave’s email was long closed. Or, I was informed, this code had come with the original documents when purchased. They were also nowhere to be found.

After a frustrating few days, I decided to rearrange the workstation with my laptop. I carefully moved his Surface Pro docking station and dusted. His large monitor was sitting atop a wooden box that looked like one of his cigar humidors. Before re-positioning everything, I opened the lid of the box.

Dave’s wedding watch lay in plain sight on top of a large pile of small flash drives. It had been within my reach every time I sat at his desk.

I grabbed it and held it in my palm. In that initial moment, I was confused and thought that it wasn’t his wedding watch. It was too small, too light-weight, and the leather band was not of good quality. I turned it over and squinted to read the inscription and date. It indeed was the day of our wedding but the quote I had inscribed from my marriage vows to him seemed to be incorrect. Or so I thought. In fact, I had been misremembering my own words all these years.

I dropped his watch on the desk and began to cry. My tears were laced with disbelief and anger and disappointment. This was the watch I had been searching for, but it wasn’t how I remembered it. It felt all wrong, like an imposter.

My memory didn’t match the reality. I was searching for something that didn’t exist. And then I thought, maybe it never did.

Years of grief have mangled my memories. I guess that sounds harsh or pathetic. Maybe it is both. But I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that I’ve been grieving the idea of a man who hasn’t walked this earth for many years. His watch stopped a long time ago, its clock face frozen at 1:20:17 and the date at 9. Random numbers that mean nothing, yet I want them to be a code that unlocks my sadness and frees me from yearning for something that’s gone.

I’ve been holding onto the hope that when I found Dave’s wedding watch, he would walk back through the door. That is a painful thing for me to admit, but it’s true. This magical belief that I’ve carried that Dave, too, has been hiding within my reach. If only I had been a better searcher, I could have found him and brought him home.

A few months ago, I said to a friend that when we bump into our own paradoxes, that’s when real learning occurs. My words now seem prophetic, but I feel jumbled and confused and indebted to this watch that no longer tells the time. It will forever remind me that time stopped when my heart broke.

Dave’s watch is not as I remember. Nothing ever is.

Maybe the Universe has indeed given me the watch at the exact time I need it.

Beth McLaughlin is a writer and narrative coach. She thrives on helping others uncover and tell their stories. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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