The Power of Remembering: A Strategy for Grief
Last week at St. Mary’s Court we had our annual Remembrance Service. Our community gathered to remember residents who died in the past year, both those who resided here until death, and those former residents who had moved away. St. Mary’s Court is a seniors’ apartment building where community is a quality of life that enables residents to be well—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We all need a time set apart to honor our fellow travelers who have passed on. When someone dies, we often continue on, living out our daily routine while silently noting the absence. We quietly grieve our losses and perhaps try to understand something of the mystery of death. By setting aside this one evening each year, both residents and staff are able to bring to the light both our common feelings of loss and sadness, and our awareness of the tenderness and love we feel for our companions in a celebration of stories, prayers, music, and, of course, delicious pastries. We can share our sense of connectedness to one another, and to those who have gone on before us. We do all this by remembering.
As we age, our memory can be less than reliable. Names, details, order of events can all become blurry, confused, or just absent! But whatever the memories are that we share at these services, they seem to be the ones that are meant to be recollected. These are the memories that speak of a person’s goodness and kindness to others, courage in the face of adversity and joie de vivre! These are the memories that reveal something no one else ever knew about a person. And perhaps most interesting, these are the memories that say something about ourselves.
In The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister reflects on the challenges and values of growing older. She writes:
Memory is one of the most powerful functions of the human mind and touches the core of who we are….Memory is not about what went on in the past. It is about what is going on inside of us right at this moment… Memory is a desire for completion… It is always an opportunity for healing… Memory tells us what we miss and what we regret and what we have yet to come to peace with… Memory holds us in contact with those who went before us….It allows for the ones we have treasured in life to live on inside of us, not in order to bind us to the past, but to remind us that life has been good before and can be just as good now. (The Gift of Years, 153-57)
“Life has been good and can be just as good now.” That’s a remembrance we all need, especially when aging makes us acutely aware of our physical and emotional limitations… when our attitude toward life is being challenged and a difficult day can make us irritable and despairing.
The words of dismissal at the Remembrance Service charged us to “go out to live life to the full in every way open to each of us… leaving this place united in sorrow and love. So go out to seek justice and peace for all, be courageous, be creative and be loving.” (progressivechristianity.org)
May our memories of others inspire the kind of living that we will want to be remembered for. Blessed are those who remember.
The Rev. Susan Walker is an Episcopal deacon in the Diocese of Washington. On Sundays, she serves at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Parish in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. During the week, she serves St. Mary’s Court as Leasing Agent and Resident Services.
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