What do you want to do with the events of your life ?
Lose them to other people’s memories?
Or preserve them forever?
When my father died in his bed, nearly all of his small family were with him in his bedroom where we’d set up the folding chairs.
There we sat, five or six people of various ages, staring at a shrunken and wasted man who was dying of cancer at only 59 years old. In the bedroom next door slept his only grandchild, who would turn one year old tomorrow.
It had been a torturous five year struggle and although we didn’t want to lose him, we wanted him to be finished suffering. I was at the foot of the bed where my father—the mighty man who could once fix or build anything, who lifted his children off the floor as we hung on his biceps—lay gurgling through his final breaths. Such long pauses separated each one, we all thought surely this was his last.
Suddenly, I saw us as cold spectators to an isolated man’s last moments before taking the journey we all take alone. I couldn’t bear that he was by himself on that bed while we all stared with our still-healthy eyes.
I crept carefully onto the bed.
There was a quiet collective gasp of surprise.
I lay my body alongside my father’s skeletal frame in the most intimate moment I’d ever known with him, and started talking quietly.
“Dad, it’s OK to let go now. You were a great father; you did a wonderful job. We’re all here, loving you and sending you on your way. Thank you for all you did and gave us, Dad. It’s OK to be done now. I love you, Dad. It’s OK to let go.”
One by one, the family began to slide forward, pulling their chairs closer, touching the bed or his clothes or sitting next to him, each saying their own last precious words of love.
My mother who’d nursed him and comforted him through his cancer fear, anger, and despair, sighed and nodded from the foot of the bed. All the important things had long been said between them. They’d held each other for so long—through so much—that she let everyone else get in close for their last touch. “Let go, Honey,” she said, “Let go, my love.”
His mother, doing what no mother should have to do, watched her child struggle to be in this world but need to be out of it. Her tiny wrinkled hand held the only part of him she could reach, his ankle. She dabbed her pale eyes with one hand and refused to let go with the other. His sister laid a hand on her mother’s back and another on her brother’s leg. “It’s OK, Bus,” she said, using his childhood nickname. “It’s OK.”
My sister slid alongside the bed to hold his hand. “I love you, Dad,” she said to the father who’d loved her and taught her and bequeathed his skills to her. “It’s time to let go, Dad. I love you so much.” Her head fell onto her hand holding his, hot tears dripping across his fingers and wetting the blanket.
The room was thick with stifled sobs, flooding memories, the scent of death, and anticipated relief.
This is how I remember that last vigil.
When our family talks about this memory now, 30+ years later, everyone has their own version of it. None of them are radically different, but none of them are completely accurate.
That’s the problem with the human brains holding our memories—they’re fallible.
Your life’s events are too precious to leave to someone else’s memory.
Now is the best time to record what happened, how it happened, and what it meant to you.
Reliving your life by re-telling your story is a sigh-producing, guffaw-emitting, curse-provoking, smile-creating process. Sometimes you can sail through a story or event, and sometimes you just need to take it in small emotional bits until you make it to the end.
Many times, it helps to have someone to whom you can tell the story. Or, someone who can write it for you in a way you can’t—or don’t want to—do yourself.
Let’s make that happen for you.
Memoirs are my specialty because they are my favorite form of ghostwriting.
I love the intimacy and seeing how your life unfolded from the opportunities you were given, the ones you chose, and what you want to remember most.
Your story is just waiting to be told and preserved.