A dear friend of mine holds on to memoirs from her past, pictures and gifts from old boyfriends, a friendship bracelet from a friend she has not talked to in nearly twenty years, a vase from a wedding of another friend from fifteen years ago, love letters, etc. My younger sister is similar in that she has old memoirs from her past and some that I am not sure why she has kept all these years. I don’t hold on to memoirs nor do I believe in the strength of those memories. This is how I have always been and this even before chronic illness became a part of my life.
I recall that once I told my friend to get rid of that old engagement ring from a boyfriend she never married. I told her that holding on the past was pointless considering she was married to someone else for nearly ten years and shared three children with him. She told that she held on to these things not because she had regrets or wanted to go back but because they reminded her what she has now. Perhaps my friend is justified in that, but I never held on to things from my past. I have always believed that holding on to people was far more important than holding on to material things. Holding on to memoirs from the past reminds of a song by Chely Wright called “Back of the Bottom Drawer.”
Someone I once considered a mentor told me that “some people hold on to the past so tightly it chokes them.” This is a statement I definately agree with. When I was only seventeen, I lost someone that I was very much in love with due to his untimely death at age 20. A year later, I lost my father at a time where I desperately needed my father in my life. The older got the more I realized that death and watching people you love die is simply part of life. I didn’t quite understand death when I was young even though, when I was five, I lost a friend to leukemia. At five, I really didn’t quite understand death, but finding out that she passed away is a memory that I still have. When I was six, my maternal grandfather passed away, and even though I did not know him, I remember my mother grieving. When I was eight, my uncle (my dad’s brother) passed away and I remember my cousins grieving. When I was ten, my paternal grandmother passed and I remember my father mourning. Then when I experienced death, I learned to mourn. After I learned to mourn, I stopped mourning. After losing my father and that young man I loved dearly, I lost uncles, my maternal grandmother, and other people I loved dearly and if anything, I learned to grieve better. I started accepting that death would happen whether we wanted it to or not and all we could do, in the present, is to hold on to those we love.
If anything, my experience with death and mourning taught me not hold on to the past. I always hear people say that they have regrets about the past or wish that had done something differently, but I don’t have any regrets and I wouldn’t change the past if I could. I am not saying that I had an easy life because I didn’t. I loved and lost like anyone else.
I remember that fateful day that I boarded a plane from Jerusalem, Israel back to the United States without my daughters. It is day that I will remember clearly for the rest of my life. I know that it is too late to wonder what I could have done differently so I accept that and I move on. I grieved for a long time but my daughters are now ten years older, and the oldest is four years away from being an adult. They turned out just fine without me but wondering what I could have done differently doesn’t change what has already happened. For ten years, I have wanted to hold my daughters but I can’t and there is not a thing I can do to change that. I don’t have much contact with them but I do the best that I can to remind them how much I love them. I explained my choices to them; they understood and they forgive me for having to walk away. That is not to say I forgave myself. Now, I look at them all grown up and I am sad that I wasn’t a part of it. Still, I refuse to look back at the past and wonder what I could have done differently. I can only look to the future.
I don’t hold on to the past nor do I have any regrets about it. What is the point of having regrets? The only thing regrets do is keep us from looking towards the future. My first marriage didn’t work out but I was blessed with four children and I wouldn’t change a single teardrop if I could. Then, I had to leave my daughters and raised my son as a single mother because I didn’t have any other options. I met my current husband and created a life with him. We raised our boys (now ages 21 and 10) and we added another little boy to our family. I never stopped missing my daughters and not a day goes by that I don’t think about them but if I could make it July 2000 again and make different choices, I wouldn’t. I can just look forward to a future with them because one day my daughters (now ages 14, 13 and 12) will be all grown up and no one (not their father, stepmother or grandparents) can stop me from having a life with them.
I learned a long time ago that holding on to the past only keeps us from moving forward. I have a good life with a wonderful husband and three boys who would move heaven and earth for me. I wish that my daughters were a part of that, but they are not, and I accept it. What more can I do? What more can anyone of us do about things in our life that we have no control over?
The way I see it is that life is like a puzzle. Each year, we lose pieces of that puzzle. People we know and love will move away or die. There are important events in our lives like graduations, marriages, new jobs, and the birth of children, and these events pull us further away from the past whether we want them to or not. You can hold to memoirs from the past, but the present and future will happen so the best we can do is embrace that.