January 10, 2017 – Today would have been my sister’s 75th birthday. She was my sister, my mentor, and my best friend. Today is also my mother’s birthday and my parents wedding anniversary. The 18th was my brother’s birthday. All of these people have passed on. My Mother died in January 1997, my Father died in the spring of 1977. I lost my sister in February 2015, and my brother at Christmas in 2013.
Sounds like I should be hiding away, crying over the loss of these special people. Wrong! This month is not a sad time, but rather brings deep joy, as my soul overflows with wonderful memories. I miss them all dearly, but they are still with me and will be until either I leave this world or my brain ventures elsewhere. Many years ago, at his sister’s funeral, my father gave me very notable advice. I will paraphrase …
“Take a few minutes and cherish the little things you loved about the person you have lost. Over time, most memories obscure, no matter how hard you try to keep them vivid in your mind. So lock away one happy memory for each sense. Remember a scent, a sound, a vision, a taste, and a feeling.”
I followed that advice, and I believe it has made handling death so much easier.
For example, I remember watching my mother playing the piano in our old house. The upright was ancient and a bit out of tune. I only remember one song, Young At Heart, it was her favorite, and even today, that melody makes me think of her sitting at the keyboard, with her face raised, her eyes closed, and her voice clear and strong, as if she were performing before a packed house at Carnegie Hall. I still use her pastry recipe (the one with lard) and the taste and aroma of apple pie brings me back to those chaotic but happy Christmas dinners with the entire extended family squeezed into our house—my mother beaming with pride.
I remember my father’s whistling, he was very good at it. The smell of Old Spice produces the memory of him coming down the stairs, ready for work. He boiled water and loose tea every morning, and reheated it for supper. Everyone claimed his tea could probably strip paint, and yet I always loved the taste of it. I can see him sitting in his old chair, listening to classical music on a transistor radio (distorted and scratchy, with varied volume), a broad smile on his face, his eyes closed, and his head moving ever-so-slightly in time with the music—a reserved version of classical head-banging.
I’m sure you get the idea. My father’s advice helped me retain beautiful memories of all the people I loved. I retain those images clearly, some of them for over 50 years. A funeral is a sad ceremony, the marker is hard and cold, and where we lay the remains is just concrete and/or dirt. I don’t want to remember any of that. I want to remember the little things I loved about those who influenced my life. I don’t want to visit a grave, or talk to a headstone. I want to sense their presence in my here and now.
We have the internet, and memories of the dearly departed slide through cyberspace like rocks skimming over a pond. I have no doubt this type of communication gives some solace during mourning, but it also causes others difficulty. When those memes and prayers are posted almost daily, it is obvious the person posting feels better for it. What they overlook, are the others out there on their social media, who may not welcome the relentless reminders of their personal loss. They may deal with death very differently and such constant reminders can make it difficult for them.
Grieving is a very private matter. Mourners must go through various phases, and ultimately accept their loved one is gone. Everyone does it in their own way. Social media should be a distraction, not a reminder of the hard personal reality. I believe we need to be aware of its ability to disturb others—especially when it comes to grieving. It’s a time when some friends and family may need private time to deal with their loss.
Death can be a great relief for those suffering horrible pain, mental confusion, and mind-numbing loneliness. It can also be devastating when innocents pass from this world without reasons we can comprehend. I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. I do know death is part of life, but it is not the perceived injustice, we make it out to be. It is simply a disturbing reminder of our own mortality—that all must end.
A friend reminded me of this very appropriate quote from Dr. Seuss:
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
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Christine Hayton is a Canadian author, living in Southern Ontario. She writes novels, short stories, and novellas in thriller, horror, romance, and contemporary genres, and literary fiction.
“Scarecrows” a horror novella by Christine, published by Samhain Publishing Ltd, is available in e-book at the Samhain site and at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other on-line book sellers, and will continue to be available into 2017.
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