Those that follow my blog are aware that my oldest child, and only daughter, passed away in a motor vehicle accident in 2004. The days that followed are not ones that I want to remember; but as a survivor of that horrific accident, they are burned into my memory. That February morning, I woke with three happy, healthy teenagers; by noon, I had only two. That was my reality.
My boys were 12 and 14 at the time. I had no idea what to say to them, or how to talk to them about the radical change that was a direct result of the accident that took their sister away. In time, with lots of research, I began to tentatively talk to them about what had happened. Carefully, over the next couple of years, we began to have a life without her. Then as my sons grew older, the conversations turned to good memories of the sixteen years we had together.
Still, all of us have times of the year when it is difficult to discuss her loss, and we each approach it differently. As a mother, I have used many different approaches to encourage my sons to remember her and to include the memories in conversation. I gave my sons a memory book, which includes pictures of my daughter, as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. I wanted to be sure that they would remember the good times they had with her. The book includes photos of the three of them, happy and healthy. It has snapshots of our family happy and whole, as well as baby pictures of them all. At the time, we flipped through the pictures and then the book was put away. During my recent Christmas visit, it was a great delight when my four-year-old grandson told me about the photo book! He was very excited to tell me that he looked like his daddy did at that age, and that his little sister looked very much like his Auntie. The book is well used; it has provided a link to those that are gone, bringing the memories back to life.
Speaking out loud when a memory surfaces is another thing I try to do as much as possible. I get my family talking about Christmases past, family vacations, and meals with their grandparents. Often, when my grandchildren are playing, I am jolted back to the past by memories of my own kids doing the very same thing. I will remind my boys of the memory, and encourage them to smile as we talk about it.
On that recent trip to see my kids, my oldest son and I visited the cemetery. Our first stop was my daughter’s grave, where we tidied up and had a quiet moment with our thoughts. Walking a little bit, I took him to the grave of my grandmother, and pointed out the gravesites of her parents. Further into the walk, we came to my father’s gravesite and his parents’ site. As it turns out, this was an amazing way to begin a discussion of my memories. We talked about the wonderful oatmeal cookies my grandma used to make, the doll my dad brought me one Christmas, and the family camping trips to the lake where Grandma would always come out for a visit.
So say it out loud; share the memories of your past with your children. It is your legacy.