By Lisa Regula Meyer
I was in Florida over the holiday weekend, visiting my mom and step-dad, and had a great time. While we were there, mom and I walked the John Ringling Causeway, just the two of us. I’m not sure why it was so important to her, but we did it and it was a nice walk. While we were walking and talking, my writing came up, in part because I have deadlines for projects that I did not finish before we left. She asked me a question that really struck me in that discussion, “You write a lot, did you ever write memorials for Dad and Kim?”
I really wasn’t sure what to respond to that, because what exactly is a written memorial? My dad’s good friend and I put together the music for Dad’s memorial service, and that was all I was asked to do when he died in 1995. For my sister, the memorial and funeral were two giant cluster____s spread across different weekends and different places and different people. So, no, I did not write a memorial service or any portion of it for either Dad or Kim.
But is that really all a memorial is? Or does writing a memorial require naming something for the person being memorialized? I did not have an easy answer for her. Sure, I have written plenty of things- poetry and prose- about the two missing members of our family; I guess that means I have written lots of memorials to them? A large chunk of the problem lies in defining what represents a memorial for my mom and I. I tend to fixate on processes, she is more interested in the product. In a way, my dissertation is a memorial to Dad, because without him teaching me inquisitiveness and tenacity, I never would have made it as far as I have. And my venturing back into poetry lately is very much a memorial of sorts to Kim, as she and I wrote heavily when we were younger and often our first reader was the other sister.
At the same time, how can a few mere words ever be fitting to remember two of the three people who most helped me shape my early identity? My memorial to them is not some fixed thing or point in time, but my very life- how I live, and what I do. It’s only in something as big as an ongoing series of actions that I feel I can really express the full extent of their influence on me. That’s not at all to say that there’s a right way or a wrong way to any of this, just different points of view and different ways of thinking about the subject. Loss is one of the few universal human experiences, but with such vastly different ways to react to that experience. It’s intriguing to me to see all the ways there are to approach the same emotion, and that variety highlights our individuality and all each person has to offer to the world.
OK, come to think of it, there are wrong ways to memorialize people, like harming others in their name, or actively working against what they held dear, but I tend to think those are exceedingly rare in how we see humans reacting to the death of a loved one. What are your thoughts? How do you memorialize those you have loved and lost? And how did you celebrate Memorial Day earlier this week?