the pieces of the life mosaic

This April, Helping Friends Grieve, will turn 5, but the idea of creating a space where anyone can learn about grief and supporting others would be turning 10. Born out of the loss of my father, I sought to create an open space for discussion and stories on how to support grieving friends. While there is still work to be done, and stories to share, there are many more people seeking to make grief open and safe than in 2005. The Dinner Party and Modern Loss are just a few wonderful examples. It is moving to see others walking this path.

In anticipation of this anniversary I am launching the next phase of this space. The pieces will retain much of the color and feel of Helping Friends Grieve, in that I will continue to write and post stories of loss and healing. Yet, it will leave space for grappling with life questions and stories that arc beyond grief and healing. As I walk the journey of grief and healing, I notice that the desire to share stories “beyond grief and healing,” is a world that I could not imagine even a few years ago.

the pieces refer to the pieces of a mosaic, something beautiful  and whole, that is created from pieces. Much like the creation of our lives. Below is a post from my column Of Memory and Loss on the disparate pieces of loss, grief, healing and memory.

In loss, we retain memories; in memories, we hold on to pieces of what we have lost

Memories. Pieces of the past that flow—in and out of our minds, called back by imperceptible senses in our present. The flow is unpredictable. In seconds, I may be transported from sitting in my kitchen, eating oatmeal and mapping out my day, to a past moment—a memory of my now-deceased grandmother slathering butter on my oatmeal. A fleeting memory of a carefree, cherished childhood snow day enters my conscience. In the next bite of oatmeal, I return, reluctantly, to the present. The memory draws a thread between my present mind and past moments, filling my heart with the happiness of a glorious November snowfall while my stomach turns and I long for my grandmother’s adventure-filled love. I return to my oatmeal as the thought crosses my mind that no new memories will be created together.

Memories lost, memories preserved.

Last week, I visited my still living grandmother on her 90th birthday. Armed with my camera and a fool-proof plan to ask hundreds of questions, I set out to capture her stories. Over carrot soup in the confines of a nursing home, I heard tales of my grandfather’s embarrassingly junky car, the twenty-seven cats that lived on her childhood farm, and tales of working as a young nurse. Through stories, I attempted to create memories of my grandfather to fill the void where I only hold a few—he died when I was five. As my grandmother hesitated between thoughts, I slipped in more questions—How did he propose? What was your wedding like? What did you think when my mother first brought my father home?  Most of my questions remained unanswered.

Through snippets of past moments, I cherished her stories. Yet, her touchingly vivid memories did not become mine. I yearn to experience, to feel the memories, and to create more connections to my past. I yearn for a deeper understanding of the people I have lost—in a sense create new, closer-to-present memories with them. What was my father like as a teenager? Do you remember meeting my other grandmother? Again, unanswered questions.

I like to think that some of these memories are preserved for her safekeeping; they are not for sharing. Perhaps, they have lost their color over the decades of life. A few of my questions caused a smile or giggle—a clear sign of a memory returning to the surface. When my grandmother is gone, will these memories be lost? My own romanticized imaginings of my grandmother’s childhood farm or my grandfather’s triumphant return from war will have to suffice. Will my version of idyllic farm life become the stories I tell my (future) children? (This post was written a few years ago and she has since passed away.)

Memories of loss.

Memories of loss span time and place, as I grow, move, and experience new forms of loss—of place, childhood, friendship, family, and at times the loss of a sense of community and home.

At times, memories bring to the surface the moment my father died, the days, weeks, and months afterwards, tough break ups, saying goodbye to wonderful places and friends with tear-stained cheeks—each moment at times still vivid. Though, some of the memories now appear hazy, they shift along with my life, their color and aching fades. The narrative is no longer one of brokenness or unglued pieces; it is now an assortment of memories, flowing in and out in sleepy afternoons and early mornings.

I suppose we have a choice to remember or not; to cherish moments flooded by memories or push them down, burying them. In this false binary, I choose memories. I choose the potential emotional shifts, the latent sadness, the surprise happiness—the joyful childhood moments, the utter sadness of sudden loss, and the longing for communities that no longer exist.

These are the pieces that woven together create the mosaic.


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