My niece commented on Facebook yesterday that “Nine years later, the pain is still there. Time does make it easier but I still miss her like crazy.” Her Grandma M, my Mom passed away nine years ago yesterday and I know exactly how J feels. The images of a lifetime of memories of her scroll through my head as I allow myself time to dwell in the past and preserve it a little longer. I keep reminding myself of something I often suggest to others going through the pain of loss; that you never really get over it and that’s okay, but you find a way to get past it, to continue on somehow.
My wife’s Dad passed away last year and it still hurts, but I find a way to relish the memories as I continue to find things of his, things he owned, things he wrote, evidence of the things he accomplished in his lifetime, as his daughter and I empty the condo her parents shared and in which her Mom continued to live until assisted living became the only choice last winter. D is occasionally quiet and I imagine contemplative as she works through all of their belongings, and I wonder how she manages the overwhelming task of moving on; I assume it’s just like me, by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
Then I think about our daughter and her Grandma K and how so often their phone conversations become tear-filled because they miss her Grandpa K and each other so much. I realize how much pain my children will be in one day as they lose grandparents, and parents; who knows when because life is not predictable. These are all passages we face, passages of a certain time that will not fail to arrive.
J turns 33 today, D and I celebrate 42 years of marriage tomorrow, C turns 29 Thursday, S turns 33 in a few weeks, and Little C turns 3 before the end of the month. These too are passages, a whole month of passages, of continuing, of moving on. We’ll celebrate a little tomorrow, send cards, share hugs and kisses, spend time together when we can, and keep on living as we were meant to do.
Life is a passage, a collection of passages, actually. We arrive, we live, our lives intersect, we experience joy and pain, happiness and grief, love and despair, and eventually we pass away. What we collect between arriving and departing should be experiences, relationships and memories, not stuff.
But stuff we do collect, some people more than others, and I tend to be a bit of a packrat. I’m also a sentimental old dude and some stuff I find it hard to purge: like a great grandfather’s Bible, a Father’s diplomas, a Mother’s wedding ring, birth certificates, baptism records, photographs of ancestors, a family heirloom, all reminders of passages. Well, maybe that’s okay, because it’s the family story, the family history.
But, whatever stuff I stick myself with should not be a burden to my family when I leave. And I don’t want them to stick themselves with my stuff just because it’s my stuff! I want them to know that it’s not important that I have a collection of model railroad equipment or Hallmark ornaments, or coins or stamps or books or jewelry or whatever that I just couldn’t part with; I can’t take them with me and who else wants a collection of things that’s uniquely mine, except me. I want them to know that as soon as I head for assisted living, or the dementia unit, or the great beyond there’s only one place they have to look for the really important stuff, the file box I keep in a corner of my closet floor.
It’s my memory box, the place I capture the reminders of events and relationships that are nearest and dearest to me, the cards, the letters, the mementos, the poetry and prose I wrote, the photos I took or saved, and the reminders. Oh, and the digital equivalent I keep on my computer. Those will be the records of my passages, of my footprints on this earth. That will be the stuff of life that they should keep and share with their children and their children’s children. That will be the story that every family should have and share, the story of the passages that both ground us and give us the wings we need to fly.
Un-stuffing, and leaving a few footprints in the sand…