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The Greatest Gift

Some people run away from grief, go on world cruises or move to another house or another town. But they do not escape, I think. The memories, unbidden, spring into their minds, scattered perhaps over the years, but always there. There is, maybe, something to be said for facing them all deliberately and straightaway… I would not run away from grief; and I would not try to hold onto it when – if, unbelievably – it passed.

Sheldon Vanauken - “A Severe Mercy” 

It is a universal human experience: when something good happens, we want to remember it.  How often we have heard (or said), “I will never forget this day as long as I live” or “I will always remember what you have done for me.”  The desire to remember, to immortalize certain people or events, takes on extreme importance when someone you love dies.

I was widowed at the age of 25 when my husband, John, was killed in a car accident.  People flooded the wake and funeral, and it was gratifying to know he made a difference to so many.  Still, the rest of the world took no notice.  I was appalled as I rode to the cemetery and saw people gardening, getting groceries, and proceeding with their normal routines.  I felt that John deserved five minutes of silent prayer, flags lowered to half-mast, schools being canceled for the day, or some recognition of his loving, generous life.  I instantly understood why survivors build memorials to the deceased.

In the awful time following the funeral, there were many ways to memorialize John.  I made dozens of reprints of photographs and distributed them to anyone who was interested.  His watch, his scrapbook, and other mementos became precious treasures.  Since John had worked with the youth in our town, a scholarship fund was started in his name, and enough money was contributed to make a yearly award to a graduating senior.  I gave many of John’s clothes to family and friends so they could have a visual reminder of him.  I kept the rest of his clothes in a special drawer, sometimes wearing one item, or just holding it, stroking it, remembering, and crying.

I struggled to conceive of spending my life without John.  It made me more determined than ever to remember.  I concentrated on his laugh, his eyes, his hands, his walk. When I couldn’t picture a scene with absolute clarity, I panicked. I wanted him to stay “alive”, and my mind refused to cooperate.  Despite my efforts, he could never again be alive for me.  My fuzzy recollections were simply reminders of that fact.

It took much pain and tremendous struggle, but I began to heal.  Little by little, I built a life for myself apart from John.  Piece by piece, I parted with the clothes that had been so precious.  I still have some physical reminders of John, but the ways of remembering that were so important to me in those first two or three years have lost their extreme significance now.  I replaced them with new ways of remembering, and with a new understanding of what it means to remember.

© 2011, Amy Florian.  Used by permission.

 

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