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Picking Up the Pieces

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By Lois Hoffman | Mar 21, 2019

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Photo by Adobe Stock/MarekPhotoDesign.com.

Here in the Midwest, winters are harsh. This year has been especially tough as we have had it all, rain, freezing rain, snow, fog, arctic blasts, and sometimes all of them in the same day. I am not complaining; we all know what we are up against if we choose to live here.

It’s just that after harvest is in the bag and after the holidays, those of us that stay in the frozen north instead of heading south look forward to a couple months of “ahhhh” time. A time to sleep in, catch up on some reading, start (or finish) some projects and generally just do whatever we want that we don’t have time for the rest of the year.

This time of year, January through March, also seems to be harsh in other ways too. It seems to me that every year at this time, we lose more people from our lives than at any other time of the year. We have had three funerals within a span of three weeks. That is a bit much.

I don’t know if it is just coincidence or if the sunless days and the nasty conditions forcing us to stay inside more have anything to do with it. Maybe it is just easier for those that are sick or hurting to give up during these dreary days. Anyone that really knows me, knows that my cup is usually half full instead of half empty; that is just the optimist in me.

So, in spite of the added loss at this time of year, there is a positive (if there is a positive at all)  in losing someone during the winter. Especially if it is a close relative or friend, the time after loss is spent going through the personal belongings of the deceased. As much as this hurts, it is part of the healing process. And, once in a while, we find some little tidbit that gives us a little more connection to our loss.

A friend of ours recently experienced this “tiny glimmer in a sea of sorrow” as he and his siblings were going through his Dad’s belongings after his passing. They found a little notebook that he had kept by his chair in which he had written “stuff.” There was nothing major or really important by legal or monetary standards. His Dad had recorded things like what the weather was for a certain day, grocery lists, what his blood pressure was, maybe a thought he had and a number of other seemingly unimportant tidbits.

That little book, filled with seemingly nothings, has become a little gold mine which gives the kids insight into their father’s life and provides little pieces of it for them to hold onto. It’s always nice to pass dishes, pieces of jewelry and other material things down through the generations because of sentimental value because memories are attached to different objects. However, finding a little notebook like that is priceless. It’s the real treasure.

Perhaps, as I write this, I am a bit melancholy, because today would have been my Dad’s birthday. Never mind that he would have been 102 and that he has been gone 11 years. It still seems like yesterday, and he is still missed every day.

But there is more to it. I also miss what I don’t know about his life. We are all guilty of this because, while we are growing up, our lives are so full and busy that we don’t give much thought to the day when those we hold dear will no longer be with us. They tell stories and mention facts about their lives growing up, but usually we are too busy to really listen or to write things down. Even if we do catch bits and pieces of family history, we always think that we will remember them. Not.

I knew that my Dad spent the first few years of his life on a riverboat because his father worked on one dredging the St. Joseph River in Michigan around the Three Rivers area, and his mother served as the cook on that boat. I also know that his grandparents were Amish, and he spent summers on their farm in Indiana.

How I wish I had written down where the farm was, had listened to more of the stories of what he did on the farm and generally what his life was like growing up. I didn’t, I was busy.

I also remember my great-aunts visiting from time to time when I was younger. They were always dressed in black and were always reserved and spoke very little. Dad always said it was because they had had such a hard life growing up. What were those hard times, what had they seen and felt? I’ll bet they had some fantastic stories to tell, if only someone had asked.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this. Anyone who has grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and even friends, ask them what it was like growing up and really listen to their stories. Sometimes a little less talking and a lot more listening reaps the most benefits.

It also works from the other end of the spectrum. When I think of things from my past, I will be writing them down so that my grandkids will know a little bit more about my life than what they ask me now. Like I was growing up, they are too busy now to realize the impact of this information. Of all the things I could leave them, perhaps this will be the greatest gift of all.

The hardest thing of all is to lose someone we love, even though it is just part of life. In the aftermath, during the long days and nights when we feel the loss the most, it is then that we grasp for the pieces, anything that will give us another connection to that lost one. Pictures, little scraps of paper, recipes and notebooks filled with everyday “stuff” all help us to pick up the pieces.

The next time I see Aunt Sharlene I will be doing a lot less talking and a lot more listening. The stories, the recollections, the funny “oops” are all pieces of our lives. I want them all.

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