Remembering and being remembered was the focus of WILLOW’s Reality of our Mortality Learning Circle last month at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery. Our collective exploring revealed rich insights about why we remember, what we remember and how it makes us feel. It was a transformative evening for me on many levels. I’m so privileged and grateful to do this work.

What we remember and how it makes us feel

Remembering people and experiences can include the good, the bad and the sad, which can be uplifting, upsetting, and messy. I don’t often think of my parents who died fifteen years ago, at least not consciously. But then a song, a dish, a place, or even a smell will bring them back, as if they’re in the same room. I yearn to thank them for all they’ve provided and done for me, but then I find myself wondering about the things I don’t want to say now that they’re gone. They weren’t perfect and neither was my relationship with them.

I see now that my struggle with these contrasting memories and emotions has led me to unconsciously choose not to remember. It’s been my way of protecting myself from the things I’d rather forget. Last month’s gathering helped me realize that my historic way of being around remembering (or not) my parents isn’t the way to go. Not only does it rob me of the joy of reliving wonderful memories from the first thirty-eight years of my life, but it disrespects my parents as full human beings with their own limitations and shortcomings.

Why we remember

Remembering is an important obligation and opportunity that acknowledges those who came before us. By bringing the past into the present, we’re invited to appreciate relationships, lessons learned, insights gained and the impact the person had on us. I am who I am largely because of my parents and I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome! Sharing aloud with the group last month enabled me to accept my parents for who they were and who they weren’t. I feel free, clear and joyous, embracing the full range of my memories associated with them. What a blessing!

Remembering acknowledges where we came from and who we are.

Through remembering we acknowledge where we came from and who we are. I love this quote from the late Nancy Richler’s novel The Imposter Bride, “Our need to know where we come from, to connect it to who we are and where we’re going. That’s what makes us human, what sets us apart from all the other animals.”

In planning my upcoming trip with my daughter to Israel, I thought about finding and visiting the grave of my great-grandfather whom never met. I’ve been to Israel many times yet until now, I was never motivated to visit my ancestor’s place of rest. I was putting off calling my estranged first cousin to help me with location details. The day after our gathering, I contacted her and now have the information I need for my daughter and I to place a stone on his grave. The connection with my cousin also led me to plan a visit with my father’s still-living sister in Jerusalem, family I haven’t seen in over fifteen years.

What about you?

What gifts has remembering brought to you?

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