Monthly Archives: September 2017

“What was the name of that dog you had?”

I have been thinking about a comment my brother made a couple of autumns ago. He said, “It’s fall with it’s heartbreaking riot of color. A short and poignant season.”

That thought was particularly touching at the time since he was fighting a cancer battle that we all knew, including him, he would lose. And it has stuck in my mind since, especially now that days are shorter and leaves are starting to change. He has been gone a little over a year, and this observation as well as many things he said, are bubbling up on my mind at times when I search my brain to retrieve them and others when they just show up unexpectedly.

But unlike that cousin of an uncle on your father’s side who shows up at your door out of nowhere and stays too long, I welcome David’s words with open arms and wish I could hold him and his thoughts closer. Have them both stay a little longer. Forever. Truth be told, I’d take an hour or even fifteen minutes.  A one line text.

Recently, I have come to understand something my mother used to do that I never got. In fact, I thought it was silly or even a little compulsive.  She would write dates and names of of those in the picture on the back of all her photos. Similarly, she kept copious journals of daily events, not long, in depth thoughts or musings.  But simple logs of a trip or a visit from an old friend or a book she read. Just normal daily stuff.  If a journal wasn’t nearby, she would jot thoughts on 3×5 cards she kept by the phone in our living room. Or if one of her treasured books was at her fingertips, she would tuck a favorite thing inside for future readers to enjoy or a grandchild to discover forty years later. Which happened last night when my daughter opened The Language of Flowers, one of my mom’s favorite books.

Little did I know, she was giving us a gift I wish everyday I could receive more of. The gift of getting a person back for a moment.  To catch a glimpse into their thoughts, their longings, their soul. I suspect she knew then what I realize now. She lost a sister and her own mother way too young and she knew. She suffered those losses and she longed for that one afternoon. She understood all too well that once someone leaves you, there will be hundreds of things you would love to ask them that seemed trivial or mundane when you had them there beside you day to day.

So in her subtle, or even subconscious, way she was leaving breadcrumbs to lead us back to her on the days we thought we couldn’t bear another day without her. Or wondered what she might say or feel about a profound moment or something as simple as flower preferences.

My husband lost his sister twenty five years ago.  Recently at his niece’s wedding it came up in conversation that her given name was Florence Buffington but she was always called “Molly”.  Neither he or his brother or any family in attendance could answer the question of why. His parents both are dead as well as most of their generation. So there we sat playing guessing games with how one gets to Molly from a birth certificate that reflected nothing like it.

Twenty, even ten, years ago it would have taken a simple phone call. A question asked while passing in the hall before breakfast. But our own worries and challenges seem to leave little time for idle chats with those we love most. And too often we get stuck seeing no further than our own mirror.

We forget to take to time to look, really look at those closest to us and ask them what’s in their hearts. What they hope? What they dream? Their regrets. Their favorite ice cream flavor.

There is no way of knowing what we will miss about someone most until they are gone. Or what we forgot to ask. After my grandfather died, I longed to hear his voice so I have saved voicemails I can pull up when my heart can take it.

Ask. Ask again. Leave a trail.

So that someday, some child won’t open a musty, dust-covered photo album and point to your face in a group shot and say, “Who was she again, mama?  What was her name?”