Remembering a loved one: Memories I won’t forget any time soon (plus planning your own memories)
Some of you may know that my 19 year old son died a few years ago! That was a shock of all shocks and though I will never get over what happened, I am doing okay I think, most of the time. Thanks for asking BTW. The memories never go. Here’s my story and how I plan what memories to have.
You know, sometimes it takes some slight little thing like a passing glance, a certain smell or a voice, to remind you of your loved one and their death! If you haven’t experienced it yet, you most likely will. Most people will have at least one close family member die in their life time. Do you have a loved one who died and some things that keep reminding you of the person? For me, there are just some things that keep reminding me! For some of them, I have to just smile.
I have a little friend called Che and when my son died, I sat in church a few weeks later and I was quite sad. In fact, I was sobbing gently but didn’t think anyone had noticed. Che came over and said “Auntie are you okay?” I replied with an unconvincing “yes”. She sat up straight, looked me in the face with a pitying look and said “I don’t know who shot your son, and now he’s just left in the mud!” This made me smile and I hugged her for a bit. In her own mind (she was about three years old), people only die if they are shot! And also, she had been at the burial ground on that rainy day when he was laid to rest. So every time I see Che, I remember.
Lots of flowers were delivered to my home after my son died. I really appreciated the kind gestures and lovely cards with well wishes. But oh those flowers have a certain smell that I can’t erase! I call it the death smell! They were all beautiful and the bouquets were well designed by talented hands. It’s just the smell… And whenever I pass by the florists, or even now when I smell certain flowers, I’m reminded of that tragedy of losing my son.
The smell of an Italian kitchen reminds me of my son too! No he was not Italian but he made my house smell like a pizzeria or Italian restaurant almost every night. He loved cooking and experimenting with a combination of pasta, meats, herbs and tomato sauce. So guess what’s on my mind every time I smell those?
There’s a certain young man who passes by my house sometimes and makes my heart skip a beat! Not that kind of skip-a-beat! He’s about the same height as my son, same gait, and he usually walks alone. Sometimes I’m tempted to go out there and strike up a conversation about how he reminds me of my son, how I hope he’s polite and decent and respectful to his mom and others as my son was and … Then I restrain myself, that wouldn’t be appropriate, would it? Don’t want to upset that poor unsuspecting young man! He seems pretty decent, so I’ll leave him alone.
I have certain scars that remind me of my son. You can read the blog post I made about that here. If you don’t want to go read the whole post there, I’ll give you a gist here. My son loved fritters. These are a Jamaican fried treat usually made with a batter made from flour, salted fish, herbs and spices. He would love it as a Sunday morning breakfast as there’s usually more time to make it. So one morning while making them, the oil spat at me and I got burnt in several places including my face and arms. I was mad for a minute and told him that I would never ever make fritters again in my life! He looked at me and said something to the effect that if I were in an accident and broke a leg, wouldn’t I walk again after it was healed! Clever boy! But every time I make fritters again, I remember him and now know that I should cherish every scar I have.
Some jokes on social media remind me of him too. If he saw a good one, he’d email it to me and I would do the same. I used to love seeing his big wide grin and shaking shoulders when he was in a fit of laughter. There was this one where a little girl in Jamaica was asked for directions to her home. You can watch it here. But you really have to know patois (the local dialect) to understand it. If you’re not Jamaican and you get this joke, you’re great! It was one of my son’s favourites.
Life (and even a death) leaves us with memories of our loved ones. Some of the memories are pleasant and leave us with a smile. Some leave that dull achy feeling. I think it depends on where in your journey of grief and healing you are. Cherish the memories. The major thing I’ve learnt is that I now know how to empathise when someone has lost a loved one. When I comfort someone and say “I know what you’re going through”, I really do. At one time, I didn’t have a clue what that felt like.
Here are some intentional things I have done to remember my son and you can do the same or similar things:
Have a look at his photos through the years
Light a candle and sit in reflection
Plant a rose bush and take care of it
Go out for a meal to one of his favourite places to eat
Write write write (the inspiration will come)
Sponsor another child with school supplies or other needs
Look at his social media profiles online (those will be there forever)
Have a memorial service (even only small and intimate)
Reflect on his life and have a cry (I always feel better)
Whatever stage you are at in your grief, you can make some of the memories you will experience purposeful and intentional, you decide what you want to do to remember your loved one. Don’t worry about the other memories, they will come but you will deal with them. And most of all, you will be able to empathise and help someone else.
I have purposed to enjoy life more and to focus on happiness as you never know when it can just be snatched away. This happiness will see me helping others and feeling better about things.
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