The day had finally come to tackle what I considered a monumental task that had been on my to-do list for about five years — convert my old home videos to DVD format. It wasn’t really that difficult, but only time consuming, as the tape was required to play while it was being converted. What a gift that turned out to be as my two daughters, my sister and I watched our past unfold before us.
How fun and a bit nostalgic it was to watch the girls in their youth and their beloved grandparents tease and chuckle at birthday parties, hear the lilt in the voices of folks who helped form who we are today and enjoy the treasured sight of those who have gone before us.
My sister Betty and I had a rare moment alone that night and our conversation turned to our lost loved ones that we had watched on tape that day. Our parents had died three years apart over two decades ago, with grandparents gone before. But more poignant to us both was not only the loss of my husband Trent in a car accident 23 years ago, but the loss of her 22-year-old son, Adam, to leukemia only six years past.
Though our personal grief wounds have scarred over in time, we still find comfort in being able to speak freely to each other of our losses. That night our discussion, wrought with both laughter and tears, culminated with an epiphany for me and I think for my sister as well. In a nutshell we discovered that our memories are a treasured gift and it’s really the lost future with our deceased loved ones that we grieve.
Many times, especially in early grief, I have heard mourners lament that they can’t think or talk about their deceased loved one or even look at photographs of happier times because it evokes such pain. I surely understand that each grief journey charts its own direction and there is an appropriate time and place for each of us to go more deeply into the feelings memories may evoke. However, I wonder — if we really think about our memories and their place in our lives, would we come to view their purpose in a different light?
Perhaps our memories are a gift of grief. These are the precious thoughts that evoke rich personal feelings from the past that actually keep our loved ones alive for us. Without our memories there would be no connection to the past or to our loved ones. I know my life is fuller having known (and now gratefully remember) the many who have gone before me.
With that said, the burden of grief then is the undeniable fact that after a loved one has died there is no more time in which to make new memories. And that for me is the deepest grief. Over the past 23 years, I have mourned anew for Trent when one or the other of our daughters (or myself) marked a special life event, such as a play or sports performance, earning a driver’s license, attending prom, graduation or a new job and he was not there to rejoice with us. I can only imagine if he were here what life would be like now.
A natural and very common cry heard from the bereaved relates to the loss of the future for their deceased loved ones. And none feel this so smartly as parents who have lost a child. My sister’s son was aspiring to a career in medicine when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 20. His young adulthood was racked with chemical therapies and long, grueling hospital stays before he died. Now when she speaks of him she weeps for what might have been for her precious boy.
“What would he be like now?” she asked, bravely admitting that as time moves forward the distance between the present moment and her son’s death weakens her physical connection to him. She, too, can only speculate as to what his life (and hers) would be like had he lived.
A wise old matriarchal character in the movie “From Time to Time” told her struggling grandson as he faced his wartime MIA father’s fate, “Death is not the important thing. Whether you were loved or not …that’s what people think about at the end of their lives.” Perhaps it’s not so much that we have no more time to make those precious memories with our deceased loved ones in this life, though that is a very real grief, but that they were loved — and we love them still.
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