“Spot of tea?” She used her best British accent which was far from legitimate. We sat across from each other at an antique table with squeaky, slightly uncomfortable chairs. Along with hot green tea, we had loads of morsels spread in front of us.
I have to admit, my British accent was pretty good. “Yes mum, just a spot, thank you.”
She chuckled loudly, a familiar sound I’d heard my entire life, and poured our tea from a brand new Royal Albert pot recently purchased for my 23rd birthday.
That memory floods back as quickly as yesterday.
I remember the smell of the tea, the crisp chill in the air during a cold, winter March. I remember how her hair flipped at the ends as though she’d pinned it that way and let it dry overnight. She didn’t, of course; she just had good hair. I can still see it all in my mind’s eye.
I remember every detail, but she’s gone now. I’m left with only memories like these, sometimes vivid, sometimes faint. Sometimes they are too difficult to dwell on, so they get pushed back to the crevices of my mind where I’m scared to let them out.
My fear seemed unnatural at first, silly even. But I assure you, it is real.
What am I actually scared of? Is it the depth of pain when I remember? Yes, it was hard to hear that Beach Boys song soon after she passed, but it also carried a precious memory of a joyful vacation. I used to immediately dissolve into tears and turn off the radio, or flee the restaurant when I heard a reminder song. But somehow, months and months later, I moved from that to actually being able to smile when I listened to its entirety.
So, no. Unsolicited memories can’t be what brings my fear to the surface.
It’s the fear I’ll forget.
I spent more mornings than I can count where I startled awake to my new normal (life without both of my parents now), and realized I was unable to picture their faces. I felt instant panic. I would become short of breath, frozen in the spot, scanning my memories for semblances of who they once were. Could I place his voice? Her voice? Her hairstyles or clothes?
I would rush to grab pictures and replay old voicemails I managed to miraculously save from years past. And then I would ease out of panic as I looked at their faces in photographs.
As time marches its stomping solitude, leaving no one spared in its wake, the ticking minutes remain neglectful of my desire to stop it, protect it, and keep it from sprinting on so quickly. My memories are left in the dust to fade and wither.
But is that really true?
I’ve come to realize it is difficult to fully lose memories. They may become faded over time, but that is expected with the rush of life and the new information to crowd out the old.
Still, there are some memories triggered by the simplest daily happenings that will forever remain etched in my mind. A flash happens without warning: my dad hugging me tight as a child in a storm, my mom handing me a train ticket for a surprise trip as a teen. I allow these flashes although the ache sears my heart deeply. What remains? I once asked myself. The answer is how my parents are still continuing to help me grow into the person I’m called to be, simply by the way they shaped my view of this life and how I want to live it.
Here’s what I’m learning: every day she’s with me. My dad is with me. It shows up in the way I teach my child how to put on his shoes. It shows up in the music I choose to listen to in the car. They live in the silly moments; in the stories I share. In the pictures we take, the cakes I bake, the salty air of the beach, the clear mountain water from a stream.
I find it actually becomes easy to remember.
This life I am living now has had various tragedies, but equally amazing parts. I am connected to my parents by life before any of this pain, the life where joy lived freely before death altered my world and forever changed me. I’m learning that although I am forever changed, my parents’ lives- and deaths- continue to grow in me the legacy I want to pass on.
For any loss we experience, can we let it grow in us the legacy we want to continue?
That crushing of when my parents left this life and ran into their Savior’s arms became hope wrapped in darkness. Their perseverance in suffering, the faithfulness in their every day lives; all of it was carved right in my heart during the midst of that darkness and can never be taken away.
Regardless of whether we remember every detail or remember very little, there is worth and value of a person’s unique footprint on this earth, short or long as it may be.
“O death where is your victory? Where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55, ESV).
What I wouldn’t give to hear her say that in her weak little British accent.
Sitting at the tea house that day as I turned 23, she clinked her fragile cup to mine. “These are days we will always remember. Don’t forget that, Nina. Live life in a way you are happy to remember.”
What if I forget? Well, I could lose my memories one day, but I won’t lose my Savior’s reason for my life here. I’ll never lose my purpose; what I was designed for. So I’ll keep moving forward in the midst of those moments when I fear my memories are fading. I’ll continue living with the understanding of how their legacy planted in my life lives on. I’ll carry out a purposeful life in a such way that I will look back and be happy to remember.
I’ll never know what generations could be affected by it.