Choosing Memories Over Mourning

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This is a weird Mother’s Day weekend for me, as it is my first year without any living parents.

When my mom died more than 11 years ago, I still had my dad, so Mother’s Day was sort of weirdly concentrated on helping him not be too sad. My father passed away this past year, so both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will more about memories for me than anything else.

I know this is a common thing, and it is experienced by millions of people each year. It can not only be a sad situation, it can be unbelievably frightening looking down the dark tube of mortality without the cushion of a living parent blocking the way.

I also know being sad and anxious is something we can’t always avoid. It will happen. However, one way I have learned to cope after loss is tapping a little into my own spirit of the Irish wake as well as practices in cities like New Orleans, where funerals are celebrations of the life and legacy of the deceased. For this Mother’s Day and the upcoming Father’s Day, I want to focus on “memory” more than mourning.

Every person deals with loss and aging differently, and I am no expert in terms of knowing what others need to help them do so, but I am an expert in being responsible for my own happiness. As such, I have found that celebrating memories and history goes a long way to facing whatever the future has in store.

Here are some things that have helped me and my own kids deal with going through special occasions or holidays after a loss. I hope others experiencing similar feelings will find some inspiration in these.

Make a Scrapbook. Even in today’s digital world, paper memories pile up, especially from some of the old generations. One of the first things you go through when an older relative passes on are the boxes of snapshots, the old concert or event tickets, the trip brochures or take-out menus from their own favorite memories. Get with your kids, and put together a good old school cut-and-paste scrapbook of these memories, not only as a way to remember that person, but also to keep these keepsakes in a more attractive and tidy order than in an old shoebox.

When generations ahead of us pass, we can channel our mourning into a celebration of memories, life, and love. Image: Lisa Tate

Learn more about the world when your folks were kids or teenagers. I am a believer that if we really want to learn more about our world today and how they shape the future, we can’t ignore the past. This includes the past that shaped the opinions, convictions, and dreams of our own parents, good or bad. Every single person is completely unique, but their flaws and assets were all shaped by their own experiences and the world around them. Want to know more about what made your parents tick? Read up on what was happening in everything from politics to entertainment to fashion. Then, find a movie or show from that era to watch, or put on some music and just absorb yourself in the past that older generations didn’t just “read about” but experienced first hands.

Enjoy something they loved. This is a simple one. What was your grandparents’ or parents’ favorite movie? Who were their favorite musicians? What was their favorite book? Food? Color? Hobby? Travel destination? Find something they enjoyed, and find out why they enjoyed it so much. Anyone who has a “favorite family recipe” is doing this already.

Visit their grave (if you can). Okay, I know this one sounds morbid, but don’t visit with the simple intent of going to a graveyard to “pay respects.” Use it as an excuse to learn some family and regional history. Not everyone has a grave or marker, but you can also visit a historic cemetery to learn something. I have the good fortune to live in a city with a ton of multicultural and “old west” and military history, so graveyards are often centers of living history events and tours. I also live right on the border of Mexico and the United States, where I have gotten to attend the celebrations on Dia de los Muertos. If you don’t think a graveyard can’t be a happy, family-filled place where memories come alive, I’ve learned it can be under the right circumstances.

Give “the next generation” a gift from “the last generation.” This one I learned from my own mom when she gave me a coronation program for Queen Elizabeth that came from her own Welsh grandma. My own daughters have some old 1920s-style hats and jewelry that came from my grandparents, as well as some retro mid-century posters and artwork from my parents I always just had tucked away in closets. It might be something as insignificant as an old coin, pin, or teacup, but having something to physically hang onto is a great connector of generations.

There is a time to mourn and a time to feel down, but whether we lost a parent this year or several years ago, there is also a time to laugh and remember.

I hope everyone has a happy Mother’s Day celebrating the mother figures in our lives that are still with us, and also the ones whom memories continue to shape us.

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