Memories are our worst enemy and closest companion. They can evoke a conflict of emotions that leaves behind tears and fears, laughter and joy. They can be both crippling and healing. Each memory has its own nature, and the feel of it will be different on any given day. Some days the memory will embrace you as a tender caress. Others, it will knock you off your feet as an unwelcome blow.
“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” – Haruki Murakami Kafka on the Shore
I often find myself caught in this struggle. On one hand, I cherish the wonderful things that happened in the 27 years that we had Taylor. On the other hand, these recollections leave me feeling cheated and sometimes even victimized, robbed from the opportunity to create new memories. On one hand, I long for the sweet memories to surface in my dreams. On the other hand, I fear nightmares and dread knowing that I will wake and find my sweet dreams only that – a dream. With one hand I pen the memories on paper, because on the other hand I fear that the sound of his voice, the feel of his embrace, his exuberance for life will fade from my memory with each passing day. With one hand I wipe the tears. With the other hand, I praise my God who gave me the gift of my son. Each day I don my boxing gloves in this sparring match with memories and I pursue a part of my healing that will allow me to cherish my memories without letting them control me.
In scripture, the concept of memory is not limited to mental recall, but implies acting in accordance with what is remembered. It leads to action. We find this in Joshua 4:4-7 when Joshua instructed the representatives from each of the 12 tribes to carry a stone to the middle of the Jordan to serve as a sign to future generations of God’s faithfulness in carrying them through the water. In I Samuel 7, Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” These men of God knew that a visible reminder of God’s provision would help give hope to others.
While not placing them on a pedestal in any way equivalent with God, we can act on the memories of those we loved so deeply. We still cry with some of the memories, but we also pray they will help in our own healing and point others to hope.
The way you choose to do this can take on many forms. We chose to honor Taylor by giving to some of the organizations that were dear to him. We also worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma to create a “Taylor Prince Memorial Award” for outstanding volunteer service to the organization. Additionally, we decided that it would be therapeutic for our family to plant a memory garden. This allows us to create something beautiful through the toil of our own hand, just as God began life as we know it in the perfect Garden of Eden. We work hard to sculpt and plant, knowing that we must take care of this creation daily so that the roots might grow deep, that plants might flourish, and that weeds won’t invade. We place the dead seeds in the ground in anticipation of new growth and color in the spring. Do you see the symbolism of God in our own lives?
After many months of planning and preparation, the anticipated day had finally arrived. Today we would begin planting. Each of us had traded our boxing gloves for garden gloves that would give us the opportunity to transform our memories from crippling to healing, from darkness to hope. Each person had been assigned a task and the usual complaints of yard work took on a new voice of willingness.
The April morning was cool and the sun warmed us with its embrace. We worked and talked and listened to the mooing of the cows our neighbor had moved to the pasture next to us only the day before. Our daughter stopped working and was staring at the fence that separated us from the cows. “What’s wrong with that cow?” she asked. I looked to find that one of the cows, out of the 40 acres she had to choose from, had chosen to lay down right beside where we were planting and deliver her baby. We watched the entire process. We heard her bellow as she pushed this new life from her body and watched as she tenderly licked it clean. We watched her carefully attend to her baby as the rest of the herd wandered off for feeding. We watched the wobbly calf struggle and stumble until it finally was able to stand and take its first nourishment from its mother. What a beautiful gift from God! While we were working to honor the memory of our much loved son and brother, He showed us the miracle of new birth and a new beginning.
We continue to plant and replant in our garden. We pull the weeds. We place small remembrances of Taylor and both laugh and cry at what he might think of it all. We have hung a bird feeder to entice my redbird friends. We sit on the bench in the garden and listen to the wind chimes given to us by a thoughtful friend and marvel at the sprouts that rise from the ground and the blossoms that appear on seemingly dead branches in the spring. Here we find solace and lift our hand in thanks to the God who created spring, the God whose dead body was placed in a grave only to be raised as new life thus assuring us that we will one day be reunited with the amazing son He shared with us for 27 years on earth.
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’S praise for he has been good to me.” Psalms 13:5-6
Memories may leave us raw at times as we wrestle with grief. They hurt because you loved much. They also heal because you loved much. Take them as your companion on this grief journey. Let the tears fall when they hurt. Rejoice in the laughter they bring. Stay focused on the remembrances of our Unchanging God to bring you to a place of hope.
You are still in my prayers,