Memories

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Maddie and Riley were only nine months old when their dad died.

 

Up until two days before his death, John was actively involved in caring for the twins. He conserved every ounce of the waning energy he had to spend with them. He’d sleep all day so that he could change Madeleine into her pajamas, give her a bottle, and read both kiddos a story. He’d rouse himself in the morning to sit in the kitchen while Maddie and Riley ate breakfast, and he’d kiss them as we headed out the door to daycare. Being a dad was something that John always wanted, and I don’t think anything about dying so young was harder for him than knowing he would not be around to see the twins grow up.

 

We have pictures of John up all around the house. There are wedding pictures, photos of John and me together, photos of all four of us, photos of John with the babies, snapshots of John with his parents and siblings. Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about Daddy. I’ll mention that I’m wearing his favorite color, or that we’re eating one of his favorite foods, or that he loved to read stories. I often tell the kids that I miss John, that I wish he were around, and that there are certain things about parenting that he would have done much better than I do. Every night before Maddie and Riley go to bed, I remind them that no one loves them more than Mama and Daddy.

 

In the weeks after John died, Riley had frequent nightmares, and his sleep has frankly never been great since John’s death. While he can point Daddy out in pictures, he rarely spontaneously brings up John, as opposed to Maddie, who will speak about him completely out of the blue. She’s been known to say, “Maddie miss Daddy,” and “Maddie love Daddy.” Sometimes when I yell at them or am cross or impatient, the kids will say, “Mama miss Daddy. Mama sad.” Yes, it’s true.

 

I don’t know how much of what they say is coached and learned from me, and I don’t know how much they understand when they say, “I miss Daddy.” They understand that a daddy is a parent, but they have yet to understand that some kids have two parents, some two mamas, some two daddies, some one of each. They certainly haven’t asked where John is, or why he’s not at home.

 

For now, I choose to believe that they harbor active memories of John, that they can recall spending time with him as babies, that they can still feel him holding them and have a physical sensation of his love. I know that I can still recall what it felt like to hug him and to hold his hand. I want to believe that they can still remember that, too. In fact, I want so much to believe it that I have hesitated to do any research into infant memory less some scientific study prove my romantic belief wrong.

 

I know that Maddie and Riley won’t have the real memories forever. I can already feel my real memories slipping away. It gets harder and harder to reacall the sound of John’s voice, the feel of his hand. The line is getting blurry between what I actually remember and what I only think I remember as I look at a photograph. And I don’t know anyone who holds real memories from when they were four months, six months, nine months old. So all I can do is keep making memories for the twins. Better created memories than none at all, or so I hope.

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21 thoughts on “Memories”

  1. This is a beautiful post/piece on so very many levels. You are a remarkable Mama to Maddie and Riley, and will clearly always keep the memory of their Daddy in their minds and hearts…

    No words can adequately describe the flood of emotions I imagine when trying to spend a moment in your Mommy shoes. Know you are admired, respected and supported.

    Thank you for your honesty, and for openly sharing your experience with us.

  2. Your writing is certainly the best memory you can give them. I’d give anything for tidbits about my father (and he’s alive; just never been around). Small things like his birth date, sign, how they met, what they did in their pre-baby days, etc. I think you hold a powerful key to what they will, ultimately, think about their daddy and you, and marriage, specifically.

    This is a courageous post and, clearly, you are doing everything right under such circumstances.

    I think building memories is a very hard part of parenting. I worry about this with my girls’ grandparents being so out of touch, and far away. I could do much better. Thanks for this bold reminder.

    Hugs to you and all you do.

  3. Wow, just wow. You never cease to amaze me with all that you do for your children. I think you keep a part of John alive when you bring him into your life every day like this.

    Every time I read something brave like this that you write, I get tears and wish that I could be half the mom you are.

  4. I have tears in my eyes from reading your post. I lost my mother when I was 5 to breast cancer. She was also very young. Most of my memories now are from stories I have been told (I was adopted by my mom’s sister) and pictures that I have. I still have a couple of actual memories of her, but as the years go by, they start slipping away. I think the writing that you do will be such a wonderful gift to your children, something they will cherish forever. I have journals that my mom wrote when she got sick and I treasure them.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  5. It sounds like you are doing a great job keeping their daddy’s memory alive. How wonderful for them to have him as an active presence in their day to day lives.

    In terms of the research, my take on the literature on infant memory is that we DO store memories from infancy. The issue is that once we acquire language, language is the way we think about and retrieve memories, and of course, we didn’t have language when we created those early memories. So based on what I know, I would think that Maddie and Riley do have physical memories of their father and how loving he was to him, even if they won’t necessarily be able to describe those.

  6. Your post makes me want to go hug my husband, forever.

    I know that as they grow up you will fill their mind with wonderful stories of their father and they will cherish those stories all their lives.

  7. Once again, you’ve made me feel sorrow, gratitude, and joy all in one feel swoop. You are wonderful, Snick. Even on what you would label your very worst day, you shine.

  8. This was a beautiful post, as yours always are when you’re remembering John. I just wanted to let you know that I have several, maybe as many as a dozen, memories of being a baby, including being in my crib, drinking bottles, specific family members, etc. I clearly remember the house we moved out of when I was to, down to the type of linoleum in the basement, to my mom’s blue and white ribbon comforter to the red tulips out front and my swing under the deck. I know that’s not typical, but I do think there is a chance that one or both of your little ones will hang onto memories of their daddy.

  9. Thank you for sharing this part, this huge part of your life. In the way you live and share your memories with your children you will keep his memory and his life with them. *hugs*. You need to be a very strong person to do this and to give all the love as one parent you do to your twins. Keep your strength. How fortunate you are to have 2 lovely living memories of your dear husband. God Bless.
    Judi

  10. Snickolett: I lost my father when I was only five years old. One would think that would be old enough to have real memories of my father, but I have few. It is heartbreaking to me sometimes that I remember so little. I don’t mean to make you feel sad by telling you that, I just wanted to tell you what it is like from a child’s perspective.

    Last year, something very small happened that was very extraordinary to me. My brother took all our old home movies and put them on a CD for my mother. We all sat around watching them, and there was one little short clip of me and my father in the swimming pool together that I’d never seen before. No sound. He was swinging me in the air, and I got scared so I clung to him, and he pulled me back and held me tight and comforted me. I wish I could say the image brought back a flood of memories, but it didn’t. But it was an image that meant a lot to me, because I could see from the way that I clung to him, and the way he held me that I trusted him, and that he was protective of me. I could see our whole relationship in that small moment. Of course, I “knew” my father loved me very much. And I “knew” that I must have loved him very much. But in that small, intimate moment I could see that we had a history, that our lives had been intertwined, the way my life is intertwined with my children’s lives. It was particularly poignant to me because my son at the time I first saw that film clip was almost exactly the age I was when my father died. And I know how close we are, and how much we mean to each other, and I could see in that brief moment caught on film that my father and I were close and meant a lot to each other in the same way. I have memories of what my father looked like, and even what he smelled like, I remember his laugh. But I didn’t really remember us together.

    My siblings who were watching the CD with us thought nothing of that little clip. They were much older when my father died, they had lots of memories, that clip was no big deal. But my mother knew. She turned to me and said, very quietly “see, you really did have a daddy.” Not a father, a daddy. So, anyway, sadly, Maddie and Riley probably won’t really retain actual memories of John, but I would make sure that they see lots of images of them with John, being cared for by John, images showing the love they felt for each other. It will become part of them, that feeling of love and comfort. They may not actually remember it, but if it always around them, they’ll never actually forget, either.

  11. This was beautiful. I do not know how you manage day in and day out. I can’t imagine not having my husband coming home to me each night, or not having my kids knowing him. It’s wonderful that you talk so often with your kids of their dad, and of your life with him.

  12. Thank you so much for this post. I am a newly widowed mother of a two-year-old, and I find your insights here and on snickollet so helpful and comforting. I’ve been wondering about how to keep Steve’s memory alive in Anna. It is so painful to imagine the she will never really remember the feel of his arms, the softness of his beard, the warmth of his love.

  13. I think you are doing an amazing job living in the here and now and incorporating as much of your husband as you can into Riley and Maddie’s lives. I am astonished at your creativity and tenacity. It seems to me like you are doing as much as you can to preserve and honor your husband’s life and significance. He was a blessed man to have married you!

  14. Snick, you’re doing a wonderful job, but I know that doesn’t erase the concerns that Maddie & Riley just don’t get to know the full gamut of wonderful-ness that was John. I worry about this, too, as my son was 2 1/2 when J died.

    @ Jean- I cried while reading your comment. We have so many short home movies of my son & his daddy, and I am so heartened by the impact that the home movie had for you. I am sorry you lost your daddy so young, but am glad you have that all-too-brief reminder of your relationship.

  15. I was 8 when I lost my father, and I’ve lost most of my memories of him to the trauma my family experienced at that time.

    Now, at 44, it’s hard for me to know the difference between my own memories and stories I’ve been told/pictures I’ve seen.

    But every once in awhile, I’ll get a flash of something that’s truly my own, and I treasure it.

    You are doing so much to keep John’s memory alive in your children, and they will appreciate it. I wish my mother had been able to do that.

  16. I hope this helps.

    I have memories from 8 months old that seem to be real memories.

    A number of them relate to sexual abuse which is known to be true. The psychologist who treated me for a long time felt that my memories were unlikely to be unreal based on what was remembered, how, and my early talking. He told me that memory starts with speech, and I talked very early.

    Then I kind of later proved that I have at least some true memories from 8 months. I am able to describe, with some detail, a gathering that nobody had ever had reason to talk about with me, and I remembered details that weren’t something anyone would have remembered.

    So, there is at least some hope. (and trust me, nobody tried to help me remember any of this stuff!)

  17. Thank you, Snickollet, for sharing your memories. It’s easy to lose perspective in the midst of early MOM-hood. Your story, and the wonderful posts above, help remind all of us not to get bogged down by the little stuff and really enjoy and love our families.

    It took me a few days of mulling your story over to comment, and it did make me cry. But I’m so glad you posted it.

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