When someone passes from this life we immediately begin to fear we will forget them --and search out ways to make sure that doesn't happen. Like wearing something special of theirs, or taking a photo or memento to place in plain sight so you won't stop remembering the way they'd smile, or the light in their eyes. Or their hugs. Or their voice.
I saw so so many ways that my husband's family crafted loving ways to remember their beloved momma. From the wearing and sharing of her jewelry and clothes with all the girls-- daughters, daughter-in-law, grand daughters, and great grands, even those part of the family by love not blood or marriage. Each one was able to take something of hers to remember her by.
I know how important this is as I have worn a necklace that was my friend Addie's for over a year. It is a constant reminder of the beautiful girl she was and forever will be in the memories of those who loved her.
My sister-in-laws went to such beautiful lengths to find ways to keep their momma present in their memories and the memories of their own children and grand children. Some will be too young to remember her for long, so they recorded videos of her reading books to them, snapped endless pictures, chose special mementos to bring back to their own homes. And most importantly they made sure they enjoyed every minute they could with her before she left this world crafting a boatload of new memories to cherish.
It was so beautiful to see. I am so proud of their grace and in awe of their strength. Not surprisingly, they remind me of my mother-in-law.
When a loved one dies there is no right or wrong way to feel really. Sad is usually first, sometimes anger follows, depression -- but there can also be joy. I choose to believe that we can keep our loved ones with us in spirit, if we pay attention to the present.
Even a year ago I might have thought what I am about to say was wishful thinking or maybe a little crazy--and yet I now know that my mother-in-law, and anyone who has passed---remains forever with us, if we pay attention to the signs.
My husband and I both got signs that she was still with us on the day my mother-in-law passed away. His came when he was making the bed so his dad had fresh sheets to sleep on. As he bumped into the recessed headboard while fussing with the sheets, the music box nestled there made one single chime. He acknowledged it with a fleeting thought wondering if his mom was showing him her happiness that he was doing this kind gesture for his dad. Think how hard it would be to make up the bed for the first time knowing you'd be spending this night truly "alone" without your best friend of 55 years beside you? Just imagining that is enough to bring the most stoic of men to tears, it breaks my heart in two.
When Mike was nearly done with the bed and as he was pulling up the comforter, the little box chimed once more --this time with no help from a headboard bump --and without hesitation Mike told me he said, "You're welcome, Mom." And smiled.
I can only imagine how delighted his mom was knowing he "got" her sign and then acknowledged it right back to her. I will be doing one great big happy dance in heaven if my boys do that for me!
I received my first sign that same evening in the middle of my GROOVE class. It came first as a thought that she might be watching me dance from above and I smiled up the memory of her own beautiful smile and tinkling laugh--and a moment later my music glitched and switched to a new song. Flustered I ran over and in my haste to get the right song back on -- failed to notice which random song it had switched to-- definitely not one of the others on the song list for that evening. I re-hit play on the song that had glitched --it was Wipe Out by the Surfaris- -and it started up again, played a few notes and immediately switched over to another song (it could have even been the same song as the first time but in my panic I failed to notice). As I searched for an answer that made sense, was the battery dying on my speaker, was the ipod connected properly--- I suddenly realized with certainty it was my "sign" and calmly said "well I guess someone doesn't want us to play this song tonite, so let's move to the next one". No surprise that the rest of the tracks played out just fine.
I believe that mom wanted to validate that she was indeed watching me dance when I was thinking of her. In all the times I have played my Ipod for a GROOVE class it has never once jumped songs like that. I have no doubt it was mom letting me know that she was still here.
We get to choose the way we keep our loved ones with us, so make sure to choose to honor those who have left your life in a way that works for you. Wear some of their jewelry, pray with their rosary, get a tattoo over your heart, walk in their shoes, see the blue sky and smile because it was their favorite kind of day--whatever it is, choose to keep them with you and don't let the sadness of their passing isolate or insulate you from the world.
Appreciate and notice the way other people keep your loved one's memories alive, too. Like the picture above of my father-in-law -- taking a walk on a blue-skied day (which his wife loved)-- and noticing the flag placed at half-staff at the entrance to their condo complex in memory of her. Beautiful.
Recognize those who traveled long distances to the funeral to honor your loved one-- and to support you in your time of need. Take note of how loved it made you feel when someone chooses to surprise you with that support, then remember to return the favor when the time comes.
In the months after a death many may offer you a random hug or a shoulder to cry on -- take them up on their offers of support and don't feel guilty when you laugh or joke and create a new memory with them. You'll not only make them feel good by allowing them to help you, it just might be exactly what you need to move forward yourself.
If you know someone who has lost someone recently, send them a random note or text message after the funeral is over just to let them know you are thinking about them. Or call them to say "hi", even if you don't really know what to say....trust that the right words will come. It isn't what you say anyway, it is that you thought of them. It helps. They'll remember those gestures far longer than you think.
No matter how hard we try, our memories will fade a little. No doubt the littlest ones in our family will forget the face of their grandma or great grandma Ceal-- they might even forget the special way she read them stories or painted their toenails-- but there are pictures and videos filled with priceless reminders. And so many precious memories will live on in the hearts of those who loved her. I trust that my sisters-in-law, my own children and my nieces and nephew will make sure that no one who is a part of my mother-in-law's great legacy of love (current and future) will ever forget her.
I once remember thinking that when I passed on I wanted my life to be remembered as meaningful in some way, thinking at the time I had to do something remarkable to be worthy of being remembered. Now I see that there is great meaning in living a life as simply you. Humble. Kind. Strong. Faithful. Loving. Constant.
Mom, you may have been tiny but your legacy is huge and you will always be remembered for the beautiful person you are.
P.S. And since I'm watching for the signs --- I'll see you soon.