Keeping the Stories Alive: Grief, Joy, and Memories

keeping the stories alive

Three days ago I was sitting down to my favorite three-egg-salsa-avocado-breakfast, a treat after being on the road for almost three weeks, when my phone buzzed. It was a text from my cousin/sister Jude, letting me know her dad had just passed away. He’d been languishing and it wasn’t unexpected. It’s still final. A shock.

Aside from the profound grief and loss we feel when our loved ones pass, there’s another loss. The generation of parents, aunts, and uncles, are the story keepers. They know the lore of our grandparents and other ancestors who have gone before—ancestors whose experiences we carry in our energetic DNA.

Crash Landing narrates my physical and spiritual journey to explore my heritage and unearth memories of family and culture. It’s a story of reconnecting to myself by reconnecting with a culture I’d estranged myself from. While many of the memories were personal, or came from my parents, extended kin of my parents’ generation supplemented, and probably embellished, details.

For the first three weeks of January, I had the good fortune to travel to Calgary, Edmonton, and Abbotsford (Vancouver), promoting Crash Landing. Much of the story is set in the west so a trip there is a great opportunity to reconnect with kin.

Tragically, Elvira, Mom’s cousin and a family historian, died in an apartment fire the day I arrived. Rather than visit as planned, I attended her memorial. In Edmonton, I met Bev, a second cousin I’d only become aware of, for the first time. Our grandmothers were sisters and her family has pictures, stories, and records from Dad’s first two years in northern Alberta.

In Abbotsford (near Vancouver), I had dinner with Mom’s cousin Hedy, two months her junior. She and Mom spent much of their first five years together until their parents were forced to move to opposite sides of the country. Hedy and Mom remained friends. While Mom can no longer remember the stories, Hedy emanates joie de vivre and relates a wealth of stories and inspiration. She’s one of the last connections to my ancestors.

This weekend we’ll celebrate another life well lived as we gather for my uncle’s service. Eventually we’ll all pass on. While our elders and we are still here, however, take time to be with them. Embrace them and their wisdom, even if you don’t agree on everything.

They’re our connection to who we are. By understanding our roots, we understand ourselves. It frees us to live our life to the fullest.

How do you keep family stories alive? Tell us in the comments.

Read Crash Landing to help you on your healing journey. “Liz Jansen brings a rich vitality to several generations of ordinary people who become extraordinary through her painstaking research and beautiful writing. The Ancestor Trail is a journey with a difference: part road trip, part spiritual exploration, and part self-discovery, it answers questions that lie within all of us.” Mark Richardson, author of Zen and Now, editor of Canada Moto Guide.

Photo on Visual hunt

4 comments on “Keeping the Stories Alive: Grief, Joy, and Memories
  1. Kimberly Van Dijk says:

    Hi Liz,
    Family stories…we are who we are because of our family and the stories we share, regardless of whether they are tales of happiness, sadness or just the silly mundane things that make life…well, life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that, yes, our elders do pass on, and I am trying to collect and preserve as much as I can so that I can share everything with my children. I know that they, too, will pass our stories along over time, adding their own to the mix. I’ve been researching online through Ancestry…and have had the immense pleasure to have ‘met’ cousins who I didn’t know about…and am adding the stories and photos they share about my grandparents to what I have collected. Its fascinating, its a work of love…and its become something immensely important to me. (its also very time consuming, can become expensive and is overwhelming at times.) I’ve seen firsthand how important this is as I’ve been able to answer questions my father has had his entire life. Seeing the tears in his eyes as I hand him a document and share what I’ve found with him, well…there’s no word to describe that feeling.
    I am sorry to hear of the loss of your uncle, but, I have a feeling from reading your post that the stories you collect this weekend will be preserved…and cherished.

    Ride safe, Liz… and thank you for posting such wonderful words at this time of loss.

    • lizjansen says:

      Your words touch my heart. What a gift for you and your dad that you can share these experiences. Thank you Kimberly. Researching family history is all the things you described – and it keeps pulling. Just like trees, we need to nourish and nurture our roots to remain strong and healthy – and keep growing. It seems this appreciation needs to come with age. 🙂

  2. Carola Laroche says:

    Family stories are kept alive by trying to meet every three years or so in Europe. The only generation left is my cousins and my siblings. Everybody has passed on. Bittersweet. But that’s life. We swap stories, eat good food and drink. And visiting grave sites.

    • lizjansen says:

      Medicine for the heart and soul and so important in remembering who we are. Must be an amazing time. Thanks Carola.
      Cousins on Mom’s side got together Saturday evening in the farmhouse my grandparents bought 75 years ago, still in the family. 15 of 17 cousins were there – swapping stories, enjoying good food and drink!

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