While my new book, When We Were Sisters, explores the lives of two foster sisters who are slowly resurrecting the past they shared, in my own life, I’ve been doing some of the same.
Some of you know that we lost our beloved beagle several weeks ago. Nemo’s death was a surprise of the kind none of us want. Afterwards everywhere we looked there were sad reminders. Toys, collars, beds–and he had more beds than any dog could possibly use. Friends sent sympathy cards. The emergency vet clinic called to tell us we could pick up his ashes. We had to tell his pet sitter he was gone and experience the loss all over again. One night I dreamed about him and was jubilant because he was alive and I was sure I only dreamed that he wasn’t. Only, of course, I had that backwards.
All of us have experienced loss. Some of you have written to me about losing sons and daughters or spouses. No matter how hard we try we can’t prepare. The only thing we can do is remember that beginnings come with endings, and in between we need to let those we love know how much they mean to us. And enjoy them. Whenever and wherever we can.
This past week my husband decided that since we were about to make our annual trek to New York, he ought to go through the boxes and boxes of family photos and assemble those we want to scan and give to our children. In other words, explore those beginnings I mentioned. He began that journey, and at first I just saw snippets. “Remember this? Doesn’t he look like. . .?”
The photos brought back memories, so many memories. The births of children. Other dogs we loved and eventually said goodbye to. Parents who are no longer with us. Life is a parade of events both sad and glorious, but a parade that marches on. It was a welcome reminder.
Eventually I began to sort, too, especially when he brought me a box of my own memorabilia, and just as exciting, two baby books I had kept for two of our children.
The baby books were particularly special because we believed we’d already given our daughter’s to her. We had given her other things, but not this. So that delight is still to come. Hers is more realistically an adoption book since she came to live with us at age six. But what a joy it was to go through and see the many, many things I’d kept. Her first drawing of her life in India and my notes beneath. Her story of India as she told it to us as her English improved from “Jingle Bells” to entire well-formed sentences, seemingly overnight. I found a letter from the Pan Am flight attendant who served as her chaperon. We may even have located her so we can write her all these years later and tell her how our daughter fared. Treasure, pure and simple.
The other book was a bigger surprise because I didn’t remember keeping it. Yet there was my youngest son’s baby book, chock filled with memories. Photos of his birth. Photos of him with his siblings holding him. Weight and height, and a wonderful collection of photos from the Montessori kindergarten he attended. The treasure is endless. Resurrecting the past can be precious. Sharing it with him will be even more so.
Then another surprise and another baby book. This one, my mother’s, tattered but still easy to read in the hand of a grandmother I never knew. Precious also were the letters from my own mother, carefully folded in a cigar box. I believe they may have been kept by an uncle, one of her brothers, and somehow made their way to me. They quite honestly record a moment in my life I have tried to forget. Our family, like far too many, began to dissolve when I started junior high school. But these letters were from a time when we were intact and at least on paper happy. And yes, reading these ordinary accounts of colds and confirmation classes and piano lessons, I remember those times and feel a warm glow. It’s a past I’m glad we resurrected.
In the rush of days it’s sometimes easy to forget that we weren’t always the people we are now. We’re made up of memories and feelings about them. Sometimes looking back is the right way to move forward. That was true for me this week. I found a sense of continuity and connection, just as my characters in When We Were Sisters, did.
Have you found a way to look back at your life that helps you? I love to read your comments.