As most of you are aware, I have been using my blog articles to do some reminiscing over the past month. The Christmas season is a time that takes me back to some of the wonderful memories I have of my childhood and those magical moments I shared with my family. I have especially been thinking about my dad and my sister Rael who are no longer with us.
When I take time to really look at these memories I am struck by the impact of them. The things that happened in those memories actually played a significant role in forming who I am as a person. Unfortunately, too often, I took for granted the significance of what was happening and who I was with and filed them away as nothing more than a part of the journey. As I look back now, I do not want to take those moments for granted and in fact, I want to learn something of value from them.
A few years ago, on a trip to Whistler, my brother in law Allen would say over and over that we were making memories. I didn’t make much of what he was saying then, however, as I look back on that trip it was the last time that all of my siblings and our families were together. It is in fact, that last memory I have of the entire family together.
So; why are memories so important?
- How They Make Me Feel
On the one hand happy memories bring back the positive, warm feelings I experienced in those moments. If I close my eyes, I can pretty much transport myself back to that moment in time and relive the experience. It helps to have some pictures to look at to remind me of what was actually happening and see the people that were caught in the moment with me. I still have dreams about my dad where I am convinced that he is still alive. I catch myself saying to him, hey, where have you been? I feel so relieved to see you. Of course, in the next moment I wake up and am disappointed that it was just a dream. My memories allow me to go back to those moments with my dad and sister and to see them laughing and talking and engaging with me in those so familiar ways. My memories allow me to experience them again.
- What They Have to Teach Me
Something else that catches my attention about these memories is how they give me something to think about. There is usually something about the memory that is calling for my attention. I need to remember something that maybe has lost its sense of importance over the years and I need to be reminded of its importance.
As a child, family was such a central part of my life. I had a mom and dad who really loved us and I had four siblings who I felt really connected to. So much of what I knew and experienced about family changed for me when my father died.
This past week I had another amazing opportunity to reflect on the year of my father’s passing and on how it impacted my life. I discovered that I have a cousin who lives in Kelowna. His name is John Soderlund. His mother, who recently passed away, was my mom’s sister. I only had a handful of opportunities to spend time with my aunt as she lived in Sweden with her husband and children. The last time I saw John was in 1971 when I was fifteen and he was five. The reason that John and his mom were visiting us in 1971 was because my father had just passed away and mom’s sister was there to provide support. We met for lunch this week to catch up on the thirty seven years since we were last together.
I really felt like this meeting was important because there is a unique perspective and connection that only family can provide. While we grew up on other sides of the world we shared the kind of family history that makes seeing one another feel very familiar. As I sat listening to John talk about his remembrance of his visit all those years ago, I connected with some of the feelings that were present with me right after my father’s death. I felt sadness and the kind of resignation that life would never be the same again. My experience of family would forever be altered. I remember clearly how I retreated into my bubble of grief and withdrew from the rest of my family. I believe that a similar thing happened to my siblings and mother as we independently tried to adjust to the loss of our father and husband. As I looked at John I was reminded that he was not the only one of my first cousins that I had lost complete contact with. Actually, I had lost contact with all on them. And sadly, I began to realize that slowly I had also disconnected with my siblings.
There is no accounting for what loss and grieving can impact our lives and our decisions; however, one thing it should do is actually bring us closer to the ones we love, not cause us to drift away from them.
I am happy to say that my mother is still alive at 86 years of age. Christine and I have made the commitment to visit her at least three times a year. I want to be sure that there are no family stories that have not been told. I also want to make a more concerted effort to reach out to the rest of my family; my siblings, my children and even cousins that I have not seen in thirty seven years. John and I left our lunch together committing to see each other soon because there is nothing quite like hanging out with family.
This Christmas I encourage you to reach out to a family member that you have not seen or talked to for some time. You may find it an enlightening experience.