“A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives.” – Dennis B. Neuenschwander
This past Monday morning, I lost one of my favorite aunts. She was the last living of my mother’s 15 siblings and on the heels of losing my mother two years ago, my grief is deeply felt. I know that I will never see my aunts and uncles again in the physical realm, and the individual and collective loss leaves a discernible void in my life; I feel like I can almost touch it.
The saving grace is that in their wake, they left me with a ton of great and happy memories. It was always a good time when my mother’s side of the family were all together. When I was young and living in New York, we would take a road trip to Washington, DC at least once or twice a year to visit or to attend a celebration of some milestone or birthday. I was always so excited to go! And oh…how the good times rolled – food and drink, jokes and laughter, hugs and kisses and just … love!
My relatives also left a legacy to me, my brother and cousins – a treasure trove of photos! My family loved photographs! My mother left behind many photo albums filled with black and white and color photos of family and friends from way, way back, chronicling the years of both sides of my family. Through the years, we would flip through the pages of the albums together and my mother would tell us who was in the photos if we didn’t know, and showed us pictures of our grands and great grands. I still flip through them occasionally, but this time, I do it with my son. I tell him the story of his family, so he can put names and faces to his ancestors; and with that, the priceless legacy of family is passed on. It is the duty of each person who knows a part of the story to pass it on to the next generation. I believe knowing who your family is somehow grounds you like nothing else. It’s valuable and precious and no material thing can top it.
I am grateful to have known all of these wonderful people – my aunts and uncles. I am so sad that they are gone, but the bittersweet memories of them and how they loved us lives on in our hearts. Fond memories spring up each time I look at the glossy photos of their smiling faces. I am appreciative of the stories and seeing the faces of those in my family I’ve never met or those who passed on when I was too young to have remembered them. Even though there remains so much of our story to piece together, I am grateful to have known and loved many of the people who are a part of it. Yet even more, I am proud to be a part of the story, right along with them. Knowing where you come from plays a big part in who you are. “We all carry, inside of us, people who came before us.” – Liam Callanan