Learning to Live: How Remembering Helps Us Heal

BY EVELYN WALD JULY 26, 2020 08:00 AM

Every year at the Out of the Darkness Walk I have the honor of leading the group in a poem: “We Remember Them” written by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer. “In the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember them.” The poem continues through the seasons and about times of joy and sorrow. It ends with this verse: “So long as we live, they too shall live for they are now part of us, as we remember them.”

When a loved one has died it is important to us that they be remembered. Yet, people are often reluctant to talk about them after they have died or even to mention their names for fear that we might get upset. Recently, a woman in a group gathering asked if she should send a message to a friend on the one-year anniversary of the death of the friend’s spouse. “He’s a very private person. I’m not sure what to do?” Several folks shared their feelings and everyone agreed that she should send a card or message.

My mom died almost 43 years ago. This past Mother’s Day several folks sent me messages saying they were thinking of me and my mom. I was deeply touched that someone was remembering me and my mom, a woman they never met. Although there was no expectation of an answer from me, I responded to them with gratitude. Their thoughtfulness meant so much.

I also have the privilege of leading memorial services, now often entitled: celebrations of life. Those in attendance are given opportunities to speak, to share stories, memories of the deceased. I watch as family members smile and tears fall down their cheeks, as they hear how their loved one touched the lives of those sharing. I always encourage folks to keep sharing, weeks later, months later. We want to know that they mattered. Oh, yes, it can be difficult to hear at times, but most grievers appreciate that their partner or parent or child or friend had an impact on someone’s life.

As one who continues to grieve the loss of both parents and other beloved family members and friends, I cherish the times when we can share those memories of not only the good times but even some of the rough, difficult times we had together.

Remembering is not only about those stories but it can take the form of activities or symbols. My dad, who died 48 years ago, raised roses. Years ago, I planted a rose bush in my garden that flourishes every summer. It’s my “Dad bush.” I chat with him and thank him for the beautiful buds. I’m grateful to have this bush as another way to remember my dad.

Every Christmas I bake Swedish spritz cookies because my mom made them every year. I used to use her old fashioned two-pronged (was three but one broke off) cookie press and I would get so frustrated as I’d have to peel the mess off the sheet and stuff it back in the press and try again. I finally got a new press that shoots out the cookies one at a time. One bite of that warm, fresh cookie and it’s almost as if my mom is right in the kitchen.

A very dear cousin of mine died March 8, 2017. I began to call his wife on the 8th of each month to let her know I was thinking of her. Well, three years have passed and I have called her every month on the 8th. One time she called me, “beat ya.” She looks forward to these calls and sometimes has acknowledged she didn’t even realize it was the 8th. Never has she said, “why are you calling me. I don’t want to remember.” We often share a memory or she talks about how much she misses him. It’s a special time for both of us. I’ll call again on Aug. 8th.

So, “in the rising of the sun …” and in the blooming of the rosebuds and the smell and taste of baked cookies, I remember them. I would encourage you to share any memory, story you have of someone who has died with their loved ones. You don’t need to wait for any special day. Just pick up the phone or send an email: “I was thinking about your mom today …” It may bring a smile and a tear and most likely will bring thanks that you remember.

Evelyn Wald is the Program Director for Tides and a facilitator for support groups. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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