I took my girls on a sunny walk through Hillsborough village today. We had just completed a circuit around the beautiful old church in the village centre, when they suddenly ducked out of view. I darted after them through a quaint little archway that opened into the adjoining cemetery.
My two had never been in a graveyard before, so as you can imagine, they were full of questions. Zoe marvelled at every bouquet of flowers and at each engraved message glinting in the sun, while Eden chased after squirrels and studiously examined snails. Alongside their wonder and curiosity, I felt waves of solemnity and sadness wash over me, as I read the brief details of each life lived and lost.
As I wondered about the families each headstone represented, the awful moment when I watched my friend say goodbye to her precious dad came back to me in full force; the day my heart had felt like a pincushion and my knees had buckled with the force of her pain.
But I also remembered one of the most precious things someone said to me as I grieved our first baby lost through an ectopic pregnancy. ‘Your little one is not lost,’ they had assured me. ‘You are and always will be a mother. Just as God now holds your child safe in His capable hands, you will hold them safe in your memory until you meet again.’
Memory. A powerful thing, isn’t it? Sure, it can be a dark cave of smouldering secrets. But it is also a treasure trove of golden moments and shining faces.
One of my favourite children’s stories is ‘Paper Dolls’ by Julia Donaldson. It’s an enchanting tale of the adventures of a little girl’s homemade paper dolls. One day, a boy snips them into tiny pieces, convinced they are ‘gone forever.’ But instead they float into the little girl’s memory, along with other items she has ‘lost’ – including a butterfly hair slide and a ‘kind granny.’
I still remember beautiful little details about three of my grandparents who are now in heaven. Soft-hearted Nan, with her gentle nature and fine collection of silver spoons; fastidious Grandad Saunders, who taught me how to paint woodwork and plait hair, and generous Grandad Best who made the best kites and sang hearty hymns with us around the piano.
There’s a profound scene in the latest Mary Poppins film, where Mary Poppins sings this lullaby over the Banks children, who are missing their late mum.
‘Memories you’ve shed
Gone for good you feared
They’re all around you still
Though they’ve disappeared
Nothing’s really left
Or lost without a trace
Nothing’s gone forever
Only out of place.’
Why not take a moment today to reminisce? As you walk the graveyard of grief, it will bring up sadness and sorrow. But it will also uncover new joy and wonder, as you study the memories all around you, explore old photographs and letters, marvel at the good times and chase fading recollections of family occasions.
The walk of grief is laughter and tears, comfort and pain, past, present and future all rolled into one. But that does not change the fact that the legacy of our loved ones is all around us. Their memory is always present in our hearts and minds.
Loss is never ‘gone for good’
or ‘left without a trace.’
There are footprints on our hearts and lives
and memories with a face.