Thursday, June 18, 2020

How We Remember Them

How do we remember loved ones lost to suicide? Some mourning moms I know are gifted in creating moving, just-right ways to commemorate the lives of their lost children—in the same way that some people seem to know instinctively how to choose the perfect present and special flair for a birthday celebration. I admire people who are so attuned to what is needed, whether in grief or in gladness. 

One friend is facing the third anniversary of her son’s death many miles away from the jacaranda tree she planted in his memory and from the cemetery where she used to go with her family to remember him, with balloons. She’s found a “surrogate place” near her new home to mourn J.: a peaceful pond where she can sit and cry and remember. On his deathaversary, using photos, she plans to paint the glorious lavender of the jacaranda blossoms and make a collection of images of her son’s tree over the years as it matures--something beautiful that is growing in the world, much as J. was for 22 years.

Another mourning mom I know chose an oak tree with a beautiful view of an arroyo as a focal point for a celebration of her son’s life every year. Family and friends gather around the tree to share music, food, and memories of another young man gone too soon.

Her son’s favorite hiking trail and overlook in the Smoky Mountains are the site of a friend’s annual pilgrimage on the anniversary of her son’s suicide. She and her husband even bought a summer home near those mountains so they could feel closer to J.

Yet another mom, who used to enjoy Japanese taiko drumming with her daughter, spent years bringing their taiko group to a walk for suicide prevention in A’s memory. Dozens of people were part of Team A., remembering this young girl. The first time I heard them, I cried at the power of their sound and the power of their commitment. Their rousing music energized survivors taking part in the 5-K walk, helping us to keep moving through our grief.

Some moms find comfort in simply plugging in to traditional customs and rituals. For a mom who lost her son two years ago, what feels right is having a Greek Orthodox mass said for D. on his death anniversary and offering sweets to friends and co-workers on D.’s name day (church feast day). My husband and I sponsor a memorial meal at our synagogue each year around Noah's yahrzeit (death anniversary on the Jewish calendar).

Of course, it’s not just moms who have inspired ideas for commemoration. I was so touched at a would-have-been birthday for my son in 2016 when two of his young friends set up our living room as a recording studio to create a collective, improvised song for Noah. Their final mix of the recording, which includes bits by Noah’s French host brother and dad and friends, as well as his American cousin and friends and me (on the wordless vocals), is called "Belief (Noah's Song)." 

Moments of remembrance don’t have to be public, elaborate, or ritualistic to be what's needed. Sometimes it's enough to light a candle or look at a photo. And some survivors prefer not to plan anything and just see what arises when the day comes.

For Noah’s would-have-been 29th birthday this month, my husband and I will probably go to his favorite donut shop and walk on the beach where he liked to surf. Maybe we’ll reach out to one of Noah’s friends to catch up with their news. We love these young people through his love for them; being with them is the closest we can get to our son. In their company, we just might hear a new memory or get a momentary glimpse of what was. They are our surrogates for Noah and seem to be OK with that, maybe because we, too, are what’s left for them of the friend they lost.

Lines from the well-known poem, “We Remember Them,” feel different with each passing year:  

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them. . . .
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them. . . .
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them. . . .

To which I would add: In everything and everyone our loved ones loved, we remember them.

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