I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remembering

This picture was taken of me with my little son Chris in the early 1960s. He was born in 1961 and would have celebrated his fiftieth birthday this coming November. I find that young girl holding him almost unrecognizable as my young self. Chris was born in Puerto Rico when my then-husband Derald was stationed at the Air Force Base. Derald must be on the other side of the camera, taking a picture of his family. Who could have told us what the future would hold? I wonder sometimes if we had a way to look ahead if any of us would have the courage to travel into the foreign land of our future selves.

Remembering on Memorial Day weekend, all of those loved ones who have fallen. Chris was in the Army when he died in 2002, but he didn't die in combat. He died of a heart attack. My father was in the Air Force but he died after he retired from the service. Derald was also in the Air Force, and he died at 51 of a heart attack. Heart disease took all three of the veterans in my immediate family, and the oldest of them was my father when he was only 62. It all seems to be so unfair, but fairness is not guaranteed anywhere in this world, it seems.

The people in the southern states who have seen their families, homes, livelihood all taken from them in a moment of time might be wondering why they were spared when their loved ones were not. I wonder that, too. Of course, the young mother in the picture no longer exists either. She is captured in an image on film that disintegrated years ago. It's only because my brother-in-law Pete scanned many family photos and put them into digital form that this picture exists at all. I have no memory of it and only saw it for the first time when visiting my sister this February after Pete's death. He and Derald were best friends and Derald must have shared that picture with him; a half century later it came into my life.

I have to admit to a little bit of envy when I read about the grandchildren my blogging friends share on their blogs, and even more of something akin to that emotion when a friend who is my age talks about going to visit her mother. How long my parents have been gone! Mama died in 1993 and Daddy in 1979. Although my siblings are all still here, and we all share the loss of our parents, I can see characteristics of my parents in them. But even more do I see them in the children of my siblings, so nothing is really lost. My nephew Peter will sometimes smile in a way that triggers a memory of my father. My sister will look at me over her glasses and I see my mother's expression on her face. Not having any grandchildren robs me of the experience of seeing Chris shining back at me through his children.

Even though he had no children, Chris was content with his life. I need to remember that and stop wishing for something that will never be. Yesterday I walked through the cemetery located adjacent to a local park, and flags were flying everywhere in one section. I realized that the cemetery has one place where all the veterans have been laid to rest. One of my walking companions told me she noticed that most of the cemeteries in our part of the country are segregated, with sections of veterans, Chinese, and Japanese all together. Much like they were in life, I guess. It never occurred to me but there it was.

Memories don't hold still, either. I realize when I read a book again that I read long ago... it's a new story, enjoyed today by another person than read it before. My memories are like that, too. Knowing how much my recollection is faulty when it comes to recalling past events, I have begun to think that might not be such a bad thing. I choose to remember my parents' best qualities, and I can look back on times gone by that are viewed through the lens of my love. Who cares whether they are factual or not? Certainly not me; I will remember my departed loved ones any way I please.

This reminds me how our life really does change when we concentrate on positive aspects. How different it would be if I chose to remember the pain and suffering that were also part of my past. The choice I have to make, every day, is to hold on to the beautiful memories and let the other ones drift lazily into nothingness.

25 comments:

Kimberly said...

Thanks you for this post. I woke at 4 this morning dealing with memories and thoughts from the past that still have a hold on me, though I can do nothing to change them or their results. Thanks for the reminder to hold on to the beautiful memories and let the others go.....

Anonymous said...

I am always impressed by the beauty of your writing, and feel hesitant to even comment, and then I think that if we were face to face and having this converstaion, I would respond.

I do still have my mother. I am making discoveries about her that I never knew. Since cleaning out her house, I have journals that she started writing in 1990, when she was 68 years old, a few years older than I am now. Now I see what she means when she says she is useless now. That woman was, and is, a doer, always busy. She belonged to three of four organizations, always taking complete meals to potlucks which happened frequently. She had people over for dinner, took people out to dinner, visited the sick, delivered Meals On Wheels, went to church twice on Sundays and weekly prayer meetings. Most of this she did with my father, who lived about five years longer than this time. Then she continued on alone. Raised in the depression, she was always concerned about the cost of things, and looked for part time work, usually manual labor in a greenhouse.

This 89 year old woman has had tough times, and yet she still thinks of how she can be of service to others. She is dearly loved by many. Fortunately I still have her for a bit yet, so I can appreciate all she is and has been while she's still here.

And I do have grandchildren. They live far away, but they are coming soon - next Sunday- for a three week visit. We're getting things ready for them, and getting very excited.

We don't know what life holds for us ahead of time. Mine has turned out so much better than I ever expected or hoped for. I am amazed every day.

Hugs to you in this season of remembering.
Linda Reeder

TechnoBabe said...

Holidays are hard on some people for all our own reasons. It is a privilege to see the picture of the young you holding your baby son.

Grandmother said...

You sound wise in this post. Sad but wise. Holding onto the good and letting go the rest. Good choice.
Some times life seems so random. I lost one little girl and one lived to be an amazing woman with two beautiful children whom I adore. But I realize the possibility for it all to have been so different. Nothing to do but be grateful for what we have and release those who are gone. Thank you for your openness.

gigihawaii said...

Thanks so much, DJan! Your post reminded me to treasure my visits with my mother, who is now 95. Who knows when she will pass on. I must live with no regrets. Yes, I will continue to take her out to lunch at least once a month, and will host family gatherings as often as possible. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up! Wheee!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have been recently "haunted" by the realization that I have cheated death purely by virtue of the time in which I was born. During my lifetime open-heart-surgery and antibiotics were developed. Had I lived a generation or two previously I would not have seen my 56th birthday.

Now we have loved ones who live to old age, but like my father-in-law, witness their brains dying slowly. Longevity can be a two-edged sword.

I get depressed at times, but still, I am glad for the modern marvels that have kept me alive.

Teresa Evangeline said...

DJan, I am so amazed at the strength and grace you exhibit through your writing and your willingness to share these memories with us. I can only imagine how difficult it was, but you have found a great measure of peace, it seems, and that foreign land of our future selves is never easy to navigate.

I, too, remember my less-than-perfect parents as exactly what I needed and their love always came through. I think it's important to remember everyone in their higher selves and let the good that existed be what remains.

Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful, thoughtful post. Most of my family is gone, I am at the top of the ladder now. I always remember the good and forgive any bad.
Arkansas Patti

Gigi said...

As always, your posts tug at me. You are right to remember the good - what purpose does it serve to hold onto the bad? I love that picture of you and your son and I'm glad you now have it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't lost a child, but when I look at old photos I sometimes long for the time when they were small. I remember a time that was simplier and happy and I loved their baby kisses and snuggling. I, too, remember only the happy memories. If I think hard I can remember being tired all the time and worrying about money and driving a car that broke down all the time. I don't think that there is a perfect life or a perfect moment in time. I remember the happy times and I cherish the time I have with family now because I know it is fleeting.
Blogger won't let me sign in as Nana, so today I'm anonymous. It's the universe's way of forcing me to learn to spell anonymous!

Far Side of Fifty said...

You are a wise woman to let the good memories surround you and not to let the bad memories consume you. Not everyone is that strong or full of grace to let the good outweigh the bad. You are extraordinary. :)

The Retired One said...

So true,DJan...one can choose how to remember the past with their own "lens"...wonderful blogpost.

red said...

Another one of your posts that deals with a heavy topic. You do these well. You've made me think about my selective memory and not to feel so guilty about it.
I see there's a value in selecting what and how to remember. It helps us to deal with the past in a healthy way.
I often wish the old guys could come back and see us for a minute or so...just look at us and nod their heads as if to say , "Ya it happened to you too!"

Rita said...

Selective memory loss is not always a bad thing--LOL! Why not enjoy the good memories? We worked hard to have them. But without the bad times we wouldn't appreciate the good times as deeply. The older we get the more we have to remember. ;)

Lovely picture of you and your baby son. I feel like an almost different person from who I was years ago, too. :)

Norma Jean said...

At this moment in my life, I am having a hard time sifting through the "bad" things that have happened recently. But...I know that time will cause the good memories to rise to the top and those will be the ones that will be most prominent when I think of the past. Thank goodness bad things seem to be harder to hang on to when we do our remembering, otherwise it would be difficult to keep on keeping on.

Retired English Teacher said...

This is a beautiful post. I've always been intrigued by the aspect of life that is bound up in memory. I think my memories are real, if not complete. That is why when I hear someone else's recollection of an event or a person and it differs greatly from mine, I find myself questioning what is real, and what has been "rewritten" in the mind by myself or another.

Remembering those we have lost with all their foibles is not always an easy thing. Remembering them as more than they might have been is also a danger. You give me much to think about.

Trish said...

Beautiful, as always. You nail everything we all feel at one time or another - about our families and our memories!

Jo said...

What a beautiful picture! There is nothing sadder than the loss of loved ones, and you have had far too much of that. I still miss my parents every day too. I have their picture beside my computer, and I look at it all the time.

Linda Myers said...

When I look at pictures of myself from 30 or 40 years ago, I wonder when my eyebrows got sparse and when my hair got thinner.

The younger me was a searcher, looking for peace of mind. The now me is way more content. I wouldn't want to go back.

Whitney Lee said...

No, life's not fair. That's something we all have to learn at some time or another. I'm so glad that the memories that you have can bring you joy, even if it's tinged with pain. I believe that life is all about perspective. Obviously your memories are altered by your perspective. And you should remember your loved ones any damn way you choose. I have found that even the eccentricities that were so difficult to bear when my grandmother was alive are some of the things that make me smile with fondness in remembrance. Even the ways in which she hurt me are simply pieces and parts of who she was. If only I could find a way to apply such loving tolerance to the people in my life who are still living!

gayle said...

Both my parents are gone too.......way to young! I can't really even remember anything bad!

That picture of you is Beautiful!

Donna B said...

I have a big lump in my throat...your writing always touches me in the softest part of my heart... I can't even talk....

Friko said...

You are very wise to live your life the way you do. It is not given to all to forget about the bad times and remember the good.

I do agree that things that happened a long time ago happened to another person, not to me; the person I was then no longer exists but those experiences did make the person I am now.

I take it all, the good and the bad, nothing is of huge importance in the long run. Life is constant change and should be lived in the presence.

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

So sorry for your losses, while all are great the loss of your son has to be the most difficult, I don't think the military is the easiest path in life.

Tes said...

You write beautifully that I was helplessly drawn to read on. Sorry to hear about Cris. Our family have just lost an uncle last month. Am grateful i chanced upon your blog, DJan! :)