Memory is Fleeting; Photos are Forever
My grandmother passed away a year ago today, January 30, 2019. She had Alzheimer’s and experienced a grueling decline over the course of a few years. Even so, her death came too quickly, and it was a shock to us. I saw her Christmas Eve 2018. She was in good spirits, although tired and needed to sleep. By the end of January 2019, just a month later, she was gone.
I also lost my maternal grandfather in 2016. He had Parkinson’s disease and dementia and experienced a steady but slow decline. We knew the end was coming, but it was somehow still a shock. Still just didn’t seem possible that my “Grampa” would never make another joke or pretend to be asleep in his recliner while secretly eavesdropping on all the conversations around him.
I consider myself so incredibly, undeniably lucky to know my grandfather for 32 years, and my grandmother for nearly 34 years. Most people don’t get that much time, if they get any at all.
In times of grief, people often say, “Remember the good times.” It’s true. Remembering the good times I had with my grandparents makes me laugh and gives me comfort.
But the truth is… I haven’t retained as many memories as I want, and as many as I need. I had over thirty years with them both and grew up across the street from them. I saw them multiple times a week as a child, and my sister and I often spent the night with them if our parents went out of town.
So where are all those years’ worth of memories? I have desperately tried to recall every interaction, every phone call, every family dinner. There are many memories that have popped up for me:
My grandmother taking my sister and me to Hunting Island to play at the beach.
Walking through the sandy pine forests with her and our pack of country dogs.
Her teaching me how to sew, just the two of us at her dining room table.
The smell of the Vaseline lotion she kept at the kitchen sink and used after washing dishes.
My grandfather driving his red Ford truck around our tiny, rural town (with no real purpose, mind you).
Piling into the back of that truck at Thanksgiving and riding through the fields and forests with my cousins.
My sister and me “helping” him check boll weevil traps in the cotton fields when he worked for Clemson Extension.
I have these memories, and more. But most of the time, it just doesn’t feel like enough. In the wake of two huge losses, it’s just not enough. It will never be enough. I don’t remember enough to satisfy the hole that was left by losing them both.
What I do have is photography. I’m so grateful for the photos I have of them. They help to glue together disparate memories and flitting mental snapshots of my time with them.
While our brains often mix signals, forget events, and skew history, photos are an accurate depiction of what was happening. They can strengthen and preserve our memories. They can help us keep our loved ones near, even when they are gone forever.
I hope that it will bring you the same comfort that it has brought me in the wake of loss, like these photos of my grandmother opening a box of chocolate at Christmas.