Life and Death and Life: Keeping the Memory of Lost Ones Alive

I lost a favorite aunt to cancer last year. At her graveside service this summer, we each selected a different flower from a bouquet to place in her grave with the ashes. After laying my flower, I was watching others do the same, when I saw a great blue heron flying in its awkward gait in near silence, low to the ground and right over our small group on its way to the pond beyond the trees.

Photo uncredited, from

Was it her? I thought. Is she here among us, still, in some other form?  

As we grieve the loss of a life, we come to fully comprehend death as a part of life; over time, we see how death also gives way to new life, and we find both little and large ways to keep living our own lives. As a collective human culture, we keep past lessons and experiences alive through the telling of stories in a variety of cultural traditions. Our little family is no exception, filling the empty space at the dinner table with new stories about my aunt’s life every time we gather.

Hello & Goodbye, the first song on Dreams & Ghosts, is a song about how our past lives remain a part of our present lives, and invites the question: How do you keep the past alive in your life? For those interested in actively recording their reflections on these questions, I like to offer different writing exercises to accompany these invitations.

I’m sure my small story about my aunt made you think of someone who had a large presence in your own life. Or perhaps it made you think of a small ritual or some creature or object that always reminds you of someone from your past. Whatever it made you think of, start there.

Try this:

Set a timer for 10 minutes. On a blank piece of paper, or in your journal, or on your voice recorder, start with that person or that symbol and tell the story of it. Don’t stop talking, don’t lift the pen from the page if you can. Don’t worry about the order of things, just write. If you get stuck, come back to this: Who has had an important impact on your life? How do you keep that person alive in your life? What are three things you want to make sure you never forget about them?

What have you discovered? What surprised you? What are the gaps in the story that might be able to be filled by others who remember these places?

If you like, I welcome you to share your story, and let me know how you experienced this exercise. You may also be interested in looking at other writing exercises on this blog.



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