I’ve had quite a bit of practice keeping memories alive. Besides miscarrying three times, my father passed away in 2000 from lung cancer, and my brother in 2001 of meningitis. A few years later, both of my in-laws passed on, leaving my mother as the only living grandparent to my children. In 2015 I lost my eldest brother to colon cancer, and once again used all of the skills at my disposal to keep his memory present in my children and in my heart.
5 Ways to Keep Your Missing Loved Ones With You
Celebrate. My youngest brother’s birthday is May 22nd, and my eldest brother’s birthday is December 19th. In a normal year, we would gather together, sing happy birthday, and eat cake on their birthdays. My youngest brother passed away in 2001 and the eldest in 2015, and we still have a cake each year to remember them. We write messages to them and tell stories about their lives. In the past we’ve used balloons to put our words on, but given what we now know about wildlife and plastic pollution, this eco-friendly flying wish paper is pretty magical. We also, at Christmas time, put up a giant lighted sign that says, “Merry Christmas, Jay & Charlie. We love you.” It’s my favorite part of the holidays. On several occasions we’ve visited Grandma’s gravestone and sang Christmas songs–her favorite.
Casual Conversation Before my mother-in-law passed away, she called me into her hospice room to talk. We talked a little about life, and about her grandchildren, and she told me her greatest fear was that the children would forget her. I promised her I wouldn’t let that happen. I talk about Grandma often in casual conversation, or when I see things she would have liked. Grandma had a belly laugh, and you couldn’t help but laugh with her. Grandma loved The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote. Grandma would have thought that was so funny.
Photographs Although this one seems simple, once a loved one is gone, there will be no more pictures of them. Take your favorite and frame it. Keep it in sight. Talk to it if you like. The saddest part about photographs to me is that there will never be more of my brothers or father; but the one where my Da has his machine-shop shirt on and cornflower blue eyes staring directly into the camera is my favorite, and whenever I see it, I stop and talk to him. The one of my eldest brother with his girls melts my heart. And the one where I have my head on my huge, youngest brother’s shoulder brings his memory alive in an instant.
Memorabilia It doesn’t have to be something big. My mother-in-law crocheted, and we have small squares that the children still snuggle. My brother loved comic books, and he and I spent years collecting them together. Whenever I hold one, I can’t help but think of those days. My father bought a lumbar pillow, and when he died, it came along with his old car. The car is long gone, but the pillow remains, a small reminder of my Dad’s presence. When my eldest brother died, I invited his daughters to come and take some of his clothing and things. It was cathartic to have some small piece of him.
Plant a Tree or Bush The nice thing about trees and bushes is that they grow, and they’re great for the environment. If you plant one to remember your loved one (perhaps with a plaque dedicated to them), it can help you keep them remain present in your life. When I miscarried our first baby, my husband bought a bonsai tree. He tended to it lovingly every day, and for a long time, I almost resented it—it wasn’t a baby, after all. But I came to understand that for him, tending to that tree allowed him to nurture something while thinking of the baby that wasn’t meant to be.
There are so many other ways to remember your loved ones—videos, scrapbooks, lighting candles, and floating indigenous flowers on the water. But the most important part of all of these activities is to be mindful—to think of your loved ones. To talk about them, and keep their names upon your lips. To perhaps dream of them, and hold them in your heart.
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Photo: pasja1000 on Pixabay