Keeping the Stories Alive: Grief, Joy, and Memories
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.
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