I attended a funeral this past weekend. The husband of my wife’s cousin passed away. The minister at the gravesite service said something during the eulogy that resonated with me – “Remembering is the greatest gift of living”. I know this to be true. Who would I be and what would my life mean without my memories of it?
I wondered what memories my wife’s cousin and her 7 year old son will hold from this day and how it will shape their lives from this point forward. And as I stood there with my own son Michael in my arms, staring at the beautiful surroundings, the blue sky and the leaves in full autumn color, I recalled the earliest funeral I remember, that of my brother Mike, my son’s namesake, who passed away at the age of fifteen in a swimming accident. I was 6 years old when that happened and I thought of how that event has shaped my own life and continues to influence me, one of those powerful experiences of youth that form the very core of who we are and how we see the world.
The poet Tennyson expressed that we are a part of all we have met. I think he was speaking of memories – of how events, and more importantly our recollection of those events, make up the timeline of our life and form the person we are.
My brother Mike was the athlete in the family. My Mom said that when he would make contact with a baseball, it would go a country mile. There is a picture of him in his baseball uniform that always comes to mind when I try and remember what he looked like. In that picture, he is young and invincible. I have often thought about the affect Mike’s death had on my parents. My Mom would sometimes slip and call me by his name. I knew at those moments that he must have been on her mind, her own memories at work.
I am snapped back from my reminiscing as my son squirms to get down. He whispers in my ear that he wants his Mother. I realize Michael is experiencing his first funeral. Only 3, he picks up on the somber nature of the situation, perhaps the seeds of a memory taking place. As he switches hands from me to my wife Joni, I am blessed with further memories. I wonder if my wife knows how beautiful she looks. I recall the many memories we have shared together and the memories yet to be made, both the good and bad. I hope the good continue to carry us through the bad. I think back of how we met in high school, our first dates when we were in college, first kiss, our engagement, wedding, first apartment, first house. I look at Michael in her arms and let my mind pour back over the last 3 years since he was born. It seems like yesterday, and the countless precious memories he has added to our lives – witnessing his birth, his first steps and words, the routines that have become the daily fabric of our lives – reading stories, trips to the park, riding bikes. I look with eager anticipation to the future and the hope of more memories.
And I think about loss, about sorrow and know that they are tied to appreciation and joy. I think about how important it is to have memories. They are truly the greatest gift we have and what links us to other people. Memories give meaning, add purpose and understanding to our lives and help us see our place in the world. Life is so much more than who we are. I can see why my wife enjoys scrap booking so much. It is not just a night out with her friends or away from the house, but a way of documenting memories through words and pictures.
I am brought back from my remembering again as a serviceman trumpets “Taps”. It raises the hair on my arms and brings tears to my eyes. I pray for my wife’s cousin and her son, that they find strength in the days ahead and comfort through the fond memories of their days together and I pray that these memories help fuel the desire for life, for more living, for more memories. Without the presence of those we have loved in our daily lives, we will always have memories, precious memories.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.