One family photo from my childhood that I treasure the most is a picture of my sister, my parents and me. We are all dressed up in our Easter finest and the photo stands out amongst the others because it’s a candid captured moment in time. No doubt the intent was to shoot a typical holiday family portrait of everyone smiling at the camera. But something must have happened to cause that frown on my sister’s face and whoever shot that picture captured that moment. Sadly, I don’t remember what caused that look on my sister’s face and I’ll probably never know because I am the only one alive from that time period when my family was a family of four.
During the first six years of my life, my immediate family consisted of one sibling, my sister, and my parents. The older of my two brothers was born when I was six years old and the younger of my brothers was born when I was about ten. I have fleeting memories that surface from time to time, either spurred by an old picture or by one of my siblings telling a story. Somehow the family stories have survived through the years and passed along to the next generation in the family.
My sister died this past summer. She was far too young to die and caught us by surprise. Immediately after her death, I think we all were in a bit of shock. Personally, I don’t think I fully realized at the time just how profound her death was. The loss continues to surface in many ways.
She was the first-born child of the four of us siblings. She was also a great first-born child – always looking out for all of us. She also hosted our family gathering on Thanksgiving for as long I as can remember. I thought that tradition was over after she died, but thanks to her sons and daughters-in-law who took charge that day and cooked a memorable meal in the family home, they turned a difficult day into a happy memory.
It’s been kind of a tradition at family gatherings to linger at the dinner table long after the food has been consumed. We tell the family stories that we remember and have lots of laughs. Even though some of us have heard them hundreds of times there’s always those who are new to the family who haven’t. This Thanksgiving, I was talking with my younger brother about a childhood memory and I realized that some of my memories were only shared with my sister. Maybe that’s one of the harder things to deal with when we lose people who have always been present in our lives. You don’t just lose them but the shared memories as well.
Capture and cherish those memories while you can.