July has been a difficult month for me. While others are commemorating the Fourth of July, a different set of memories is marching through my mind. It all starts with remembering the hospitalization that led up to the death of my first husband.
Then, with Chris, my husband of the last twenty years, I remember the anniversary date of the death of his step-father—which always calls to mind the loss of Chris’s own father when he was a young child. The very next day—which happens to be today—after his step-father’s passing was the birthday of Chris’s mother, whom we lost nineteen months ago. Thus the beginning of July becomes a melancholy runway for my mind to wander.
Perhaps that is just as well. When we sort through all the memorabilia left behind by these loved ones, someone needs to linger and recall all the little pieces that went into making up that person’s life. Undoubtedly, that is why so many funerals and memorial services are now lovingly bequeathed with so many photographic mementos—bulletin boards, program inserts, PowerPoint slide shows, video segments. We so desperately wish to remember—as if remembering would bring back the one we loved.
The pictures bring us back. Chris and his sisters assembled all those photographs they cherished of their family’s growing up years—from years their grandparents treasured, from years long before they even earned the right to be that twinkle in their father’s eye. With music that meant the most to their mother, they created a portrait of her life and theirs.
The photographic journey allowed everyone to once again live Norma’s life through the eyes of family cameras: to see Norma and her brother Kenneth as the little children growing up in New Lexington, Ohio, among the rural surroundings that nurtured their Flowers family and the Metzgers, Gordons, and Sniders before them.
The journey on film allowed them to remember Norma’s high school days, her service as a dental hygienist in the office of Dr. Robert J. Bennett—a distant relative, in the Perry County manner, whom she probably wasn’t even aware was her third cousin.
The tender moments were all frozen in time, courtesy of these cameras: as the radiant bride of Frank Stevens, standing next to her matron of honor, Madonna Fisher Winegardner; as a new mother in England while her husband took up his post-war duties with the United States Air Force. The photos served as documentary of the arrival of each of Frank and Norma’s children—then as mile marker for each significant event in those children’s lives. The circle widened to include each precious, loved grandchild—each holding a piece of the heritage passed along by this one couple.
While it is sad to lose a loved one, beyond the grief we learn to pick ourselves back up through the pieces we assembled to help us remember. While those pieces can never replace the vibrant soul which they represent, they do bring us the realization—through the glint of an eye that reminds us of a grandchild or the exact way both a mother’s and daughter’s hand was held in waving goodbye—that we carry forward part of that heritage passed down to us. It trains us to take a closer look at what we, too, are passing along to our children and grandchildren.