Originally published October 16, 2012
HealthEast Hospice, where I work, holds an annual memorial service called Celebration of Life. This is a beautiful, tender time for families of hospice patients who have died over the last year to come together and honor the memories of those they loved and lost. I was privileged to write the following and read it as part of the service this past October.
Memories are part of who we are. They are deeply imbedded in us, in a place that almost has a touch of the holy. When it seems we have been robbed of all that is important to us, they remain a sanctuary, mostly untarnished. Even for those who have difficulty remembering information that seems essential to daily living, memories have a way of nestling into the fabric of their lives. For all of us, memories are a road map to reclaiming some of our past selves.
Memories are often incomplete, coming to us in fragments and sometimes, seemingly, in no particular order. They are like snapshots, dusty photos discovered in a box. Some are a little out of focus, a little fuzzy. They cause us to wonder: When did that happen? Where was that? Who was there? We worry we cannot trust what comes to mind, wonder if we have it all straight. But other memories are almost tangible in their representation of a moment. They have the power to bring us sharply, almost uncomfortably, right back into a specific time and place. Sometimes, though, it is not at all uncomfortable. Sometimes, we have the desire to linger, to hold on tightly, to stay as long as we are allowed.
Memories are powerfully connected to our world of senses….the sight of a treasured object, a park bench where you used to sit, a holiday decoration that was a perennial favorite…the feel of the crisp breeze or warm sunshine…the smell of a familiar perfume, or a beloved family recipe coming out of the oven…the sound of a song that holds special significance…Often, these experiences catch us off guard, so ordinary, yet so filled with meaning and intense unfulfilled longing that we did not know was possible. Sometimes the door of comfort is cracked open as we allow ourselves the sweetness of a presence we miss so dearly. Other times, we wince as the floodgates of pain and loss feel as though they have opened and will never close.
Memories can be painfully elusive as we can almost feel ourselves grasp into the air, trying to will the moment back into reality. How much more true this is when the memory is of a loved one who has left this earth. If I close my eyes…hear his voice…feel her hug…I can, just, almost… And then it’s gone.
Remembering can be hard. But it is so very important. The stories we tell, or the ones we keep quiet and held close, these are what begin to make up part of who we are. And it is in this process, the looking, lingering, holding on, speaking the names, giving voice to the moments of the past, that memories become a gift to be treasured. They become a way to hold on to that which has been lost. For in some small way, that which has been lost, is found. And once found, it is guarded in our very souls.