Unscented memories

Science has proven time and time again that scents are the biggest human memory triggers. Of course, most of us don’t need to read boring articles in scientific journals to know this to be true because we experience it so often. What I’ve recently learned though is that “unscented” can trigger memories, too.

Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.

Paul and I always bought unscented laundry detergent and personal care items. We were a (mostly) fragrance-free family. When things did have fragrance it was generally very light and almost unnoticeable. In the days and weeks after Paul first died I regretted that so much. I read on forums over and over again of women talking about their husbands’ scents and how after their funerals they would spray a bit of their cologne or aftershave around so that they had that reminder. Or they’d use their husbands’ deodorant or soap. Some put clothing and pillows into plastic bags to preserve the smell of the person they loved most in the world. But I didn’t have that; Paul was unscented.

For the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about smells and how I wish there was something that would remind me of Paul – more so when I’m hit by a reminder of someone else. There is a cologne that makes me tense up when I smell it because it reminds me of a bad experience. There is another that I smell from time to time that makes me a bit sad because it reminds me of a long-lost friend and another that makes me smile because it reminds me of a far-away friend. But there are no colognes that remind me of Paul. There are no bottles of fragrance to mist on my pillows to remind me of him.

This past weekend, however, I learned that there are smells that remind me of Paul. Yes, Paul did have a smell; it just got lost in the unscented shuffle over the last nine months. There are two brands of laundry soap we used and each time I’ve replaced it since Paul died it’s been with the brand we were not using before he died. A few months before Paul died I also started to use a different shampoo and conditioner than him. Still unscented, but I wanted to try something new.

On Friday, I ran out of my unscented shampoo so decided to use Paul’s, which still sat in the shower. Throughout the day I kept getting these very weak scent reminders but couldn’t pinpoint the memory. Then that night as I was getting my running clothes out for the first time since Paul died, I realised that my nephew would need a hat and gloves so I opened Paul’s dresser, where that “unscented” laundry has sat stashed away all this time and was hit by yet another scent reminder – and other memories that come from looking at your husband’s long-unused socks and underpants.

Then on Saturday, I put Paul’s running hat on (letting my nephew use mine as it was smaller) and we headed out to run a race. And after the race, we got back in the car and I noticed in a flash that the car had that familiar “after run” smell that I always hated when Paul and I would climb back into the car after a race. (Funny, I didn’t want to air the car out this time.) When we got home I took a shower, again using Paul’s shampoo, and for the rest of the day, I knew just what that scent reminder was.

It was so good to be reminded of Paul over the last few days in such simple ways. Of course, I think of him every day, but little reminders of what he was like are still very much appreciated. For the next few weeks, I may get those little reminders because I’ll finish off his shampoo before buying a new bottle, but once it’s gone I don’t know if I’ll buy it for myself. After all, my hair looks better with my new brand, and I know looking good will make Paul happy, and that makes me happier than his unscented smells. Because, after all, even if the scents aren’t there his memory always will be.

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