Saturday, October 8, 2011

Choosing to Remember

Maureen would be 48 today. Her hair would be streaked with hints of gray. She’d be seeing life with the perspective of maturity, the patterns of her life well-established. Would Maureen be an empty-nester this autumn, her children off to college, her home a silent shell of the family life once contained within its walls? Would she have a career, the career in early childhood education she was studying for? Would she be working in a pre-school, now the experienced, wise teacher or director, now the funny, gentle soul that younger, inexperienced teachers turned to for advice and direction?

How do you imagine a sister’s life that was taken violently at 19? And how do you let go of the pain without forgetting, while still holding tight to those precious moments of childhood? I hold tight to the images of Maureen with bouncy, blond ringlets, Maureen in her Blue Birds uniform, Maureen, her blond hair now cropped short, soaking up the rays on a Mexican beach.

Violent death of a loved one cannot be forgotten, put aside, blocked without consequences – physical or emotional. My mother turned 87 two weeks before Maureen’s 48th. Though her physical health is remarkable, she no longer remembers that I was once her middle child, the middle of nine; that she once had a daughter who was viciously murdered. Perhaps that is the blessing of dementia, the silver lining – to lose the pain. But with it she has also lost the memories of joy and love, the experiences garnered in her long life.

I choose to remember – all of it. And on this day, I choose to celebrate my sister’s short life. We can choose to embrace life’s joys and gifts or sink into the mire of pain and regret. Though a memoirist, I don’t live in the past, but I do remember the past. I cherish the memories both glorious and horrific because they form the bulk of who I am. I choose to remember it all because I believe that by blocking this painful memory or that one, we also lose the neighboring memories of joy, of excitement, of that last trip to Puerto Vallarta together.

I am grateful to have known Maureen for the 19 years of her short life. Perhaps we’ll cross paths again someday. Perhaps we already have.

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