In loss, we retain memories; in memories, we hold on to pieces of what we have lost Memories. Pieces of the past that flow---in and out of our minds, called back by imperceptible senses in our present. The flow is unpredictable. In seconds, I may be transported from sitting in my kitchen, eating oatmeal and mapping out my day, to a past moment---a memory of my now-deceased grandmother slathering butter on my oatmeal. A fleeting memory of a carefree, cherished childhood snow day enters my conscience. In the next bite of oatmeal, I return, reluctantly, to the present. The memory draws a thread between my present mind and past moments, filling my heart with the happiness of a glorious November snowfall while my stomach turns and I long for my grandmother’s adventure-filled love. I return to my oatmeal as the thought crosses my mind that no new memories will be created together.
Memories lost, memories preserved.
Last week, I visited my still living grandmother on her 90th birthday. Armed with my camera and a fool-proof plan to ask hundreds of questions, I set out to capture her stories. Over carrot soup in the confines of a nursing home, I heard tales of my grandfather’s embarrassingly junky car, the twenty-seven cats that lived on her childhood farm, and tales of working as a young nurse. Through stories, I attempted to create memories of my grandfather to fill the void where I only hold a few---he died when I was five. As my grandmother hesitated between thoughts, I slipped in more questions---How did he propose? What was your wedding like? What did you think when my mother first brought my father home? Most of my questions remained unanswered.
Through snippets of past moments, I cherished her stories. Yet, her touchingly vivid memories did not become mine. I yearn to experience, to feel the memories, and to create more connections to my past. I yearn for a deeper understanding of the people I have lost---in a sense create new, closer-to-present memories with them. What was my father like as a teenager? Do you remember meeting my other grandmother? Again, unanswered questions.
I like to think that some of these memories are preserved for her safekeeping; they are not for sharing. Perhaps, they have lost their color over the decades of life. A few of my questions caused a smile or giggle---a clear sign of a memory returning to the surface. When my grandmother is gone, will these memories be lost? My own romanticized imaginings of my grandmother’s childhood farm or my grandfather’s triumphant return from war will have to suffice. Will my version of idyllic farm life become the stories I tell my (future) children?
Memories of loss.
Memories of loss span time and place, as I grow, move, and experience new forms of loss---of place, childhood, friendship, family, and at times the loss of a sense of community and home.
The dull pain of the present intertwines with the gut-wrenching pain of the past. At times, memories bring to the surface the moment my father died, the days, weeks, and months afterwards, tough break ups, saying goodbye to wonderful places and friends with tear-stained cheeks---each moment at times still vivid. Though, some of the memories now appear hazy, they shift along with my life, their color and aching fades. The narrative is no longer one of brokenness or unglued pieces; it is now an assortment of memories, flowing in and out in sleepy afternoons and early mornings.
I suppose we have a choice to remember or not; to cherish moments flooded by memories or push them down, burying them. In this false binary, I choose memories. I choose the potential emotional shifts, the latent sadness, the surprise happiness---the joyful childhood moments, the utter sadness of sudden loss, and the longing for communities that no longer exist.
These are the pieces that woven together create the mosaic.