I've been working ever more diligently to self-publish a children's story written by my daughter, Lena. The pace is picking up as more frequent deadlines are looming. Incomplete line items on the book project plan run parallel to the horizon where I cannot quite envision the end. Time is finite, of course, and more than anything I want her story published.
Writing an author biography is an essential task of the book publishing process. Can you imagine my apprehension when the assignment of writing my dead daughter's biography floated to the top of the list? I thought this work would be a piece of cake. Who knows her better than her mother? Well, let me tell you, that cake crumbled rather quickly.
I was indeed, procrastinating.
On a quiet afternoon, I dove into the task, only to be met with multiple fits and starts. Telling myself, after all, this is the nature of writing. I began again and again. I still had a week left; more than enough time to write about the most central person of my life. Initially, I didn't pay close attention to why, or that fact that I was indeed, procrastinating.
It wasn't until after the deadline had passed I labeled the procrastination for what it truly was. Forgetfulness. Or more precisely, the fear of forgetting her and the recognition of how much I've already forgotten.
The gift of presence rather than presents . . .
After Lena had died, we had many visits from family and friends. Many understood that "showing up" is the greatest gift you can give to a grieving family. The gift of presence rather than presents is one I valued the most.
The fact remained; we had moved hundreds of miles from her hometown before her passing from this life and therefore, being in daily contact with the people and places she loved best were outside of our daily lives; outside our sphere of grief. In other words, some of the forgetfulness is circumstantial.
It isn't possible for me to entirely forget her.
Certainly, it isn't possible for me to entirely forget her. Yet, some nuances of her character have faded; her expressions and quirks, how she looked from across the room or sitting beside me, how our ribs fit together when cuddling or wishing her farewell on yet another adventure away from our nest. The 3D-ness of her person and personality reduced to flat photographs that hold only a fraction of her being.
I lament how this feels like being robbed a second time. Isn't it enough to have suffered the loss of a child without the waning years further destroying my cherished memories of her? For so long I worried about forgetting, and tried to balance this with making a point to visit her old stomping grounds, preserving the connections with her favorite people, even though these people and places were often the grief triggers I desperately wanted to avoid.
It was time to follow the advice I give others.
It was time to follow the advice I give others. Ask for help. That's when I remembered the blueberries. My muse, Lena herself, came through to my memory with a flashback to her second summer, when she was little more than a toddler.
Joined by several family members, women mostly, we went picking berries in "the Barrens", a rejuvenated forest that had previously burned. It is an area that all but the locals might easily get lost in with its pattern of crisscrossed dirt and deep sandy roads, ever-changing low growth, and bear. Suffice it to say there are no street signs.
The camaraderie of foraging is a satisfying and memorable experience like no other.
We gathered up a winter's worth of plastic, family-size Kemps ice cream pails, sunhats, and water jugs before heading out in a few cars and a pickup truck to find the best berry patches. Despite the summer heat, mosquitos, strained backs and stained fingers, the camaraderie of foraging is a satisfying and memorable experience like no other.
After several hours, we assembled at the back of the pickup truck to compare our pickings. My little pile of berries rattling around the bottom of the bucket was disappointing, to say the least. But then I was attempting to keep a two-year-old entertained, allowing her to help while keeping her safe from wildlife.
Sensing my dejection or simply being a curious tyke, at the moment I turned away to peer into others' bulging buckets, Lena grabbed at one closest to her and succeeded in tipping it towards the edge of the open tailgate, dumping the majority of its blueberry goodness onto the sandy roadway.
I heard Auntie yelp. I wanted to crawl in a hole.
I heard Auntie yelp, turned to look at her face and exclaimed, "Oh no!" Lena, trying to be a good helper, had already begun scooping the berries back into the bucket until Auntie wailed, "Stop!" It was only making matters worse by adding road sand to the few clean berries still in the pail. "I'm so sorry," I said as I immediately handed Auntie my meager pickings. But we both knew my apology and a pitiful offer wasn't about to fix this catastrophe. I wanted to crawl in a hole. It was a long, quiet ride home.
I no longer recall whether we ever went berry picking again. But I do know how she questioned and challenged most everything. How her diligence in analyzing a solution or finding a suitable resolution was innate to her helpful nature. The only time she ever accepted anything at face value was if she was sick or tired.
Which may explain why she kept so many receipts.
Lena sensed the fear of forgetting too. Which may explain why she kept so many receipts. A receipt could represent a weeknight Dairy Queen run. Months or years later, that receipt would trigger the memory of sharing an after supper treat with a girlfriend the night a certain boy made goo-goo eyes at them.
Knowing her in these ways, even as some memories fade, motivates me to continue the work of publishing her storybook. For her, for me, for all of us.
So we don't forget.
How do you keep the memory of your loved ones alive? Have you found a way to manage or accept forgetting?
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