The Fear of Forgetting

At the end of August before the new school year started, Annette came back from Montreal to spend some time with our mom and celebrate my birthday. During her stay, my sister saw friends and got a few errands crossed off her “to-do” list but the majority of her days were spent helping sort through old boxes and organize our family home. In the process Annette came across some home videos, which considering their age, remained in fairly good condition. However, since it’s no longer the early 1990s and no one really owns a VCR anymore, the issue of accessing and preserving these memories became increasingly important, which is why Annette decided to get our videos digitized.

To any one outside the family, the videos wouldn’t mean much as they were just a series of familiar and innocuous events such as family barbecues, kids birthday parties, trips to the beach, and a few short clips of our family vacation to Halifax. To us, these videos were a lifeline to a past life. The day before my birthday, Annette and I spent the better part of an afternoon watching the newly digitized documents of our past and it was an incredibly emotional experience.

A glimpse back, c. 1992
Looking back, family footage c. 1992

Back when we were kids, we used to watch these videos frequently marveling at, what was, a relatively impressive feat of technology. I have distinct memories of how cool I felt when I saw myself on the TV running around with my brother. (Camcorders weren’t exactly new when I was a kid in the late 1980s/early 1990s but this was a time before smartphones and Youtube, and your life wasn’t constantly on display. Ugh, this makes me sound really old.) My dad had always been in charge of filming and we used to beg him to try it out but he insisted on playing cinematographer, which drove us INSANE because his skills were severely lacking. Now, I couldn’t be more grateful because these videos, relics from our past, gave us a glimpse of what was, and more importantly some insight into how my dad saw the world.

When we started re-watching the videos, I don’t know what I expected but what I received was a surprise. It’s only been four months since we lost our dad, so our memories of him are still quite fresh. We still remember how he looked, some of his specific facial expressions, and of course his goofy laugh that was part guffaw, part cackle, and 100% joyful – when he laughed you knew he meant it. I also thought that I remembered exactly what he sounded like but when I started watching the footage, I realized I was wrong. The voice I remembered, or rather the voice I thought I remembered was a memory that had been filtered through the lens of my own experience and while that’s a normal and expected process, it’s also an inaccurate representation. Watching the old footage, I started to recall in more specific detail the cadence of his voice, his measured way of speaking, and funny little expressions he used to use. Moreover, for the first time in a long time, I saw my dad as an individual being with unique thoughts, feelings, and a rich and deep internal life.

For the last few months, as I’ve been writing this blog and eulogizing him, I’ve forgotten about all the things that made him so wonderfully and distinctly human. Instead I’ve been projecting my feelings and memories onto him. I have to be honest, I feel no guilt over this, it’s what I needed to do to work through my own feelings but now that I’m aware of it, things feel a little bit different.

The plurality of loss: Up until this spring, one of the most significant losses I had experienced was the death of my grandmother, who was instrumental in my upbringing. With the death of my dad, it re-opened old wounds. Here's my grandmother pictured in Hong Kong, 1969, in all her floral-patterned glory.
The plurality of loss: Up until this spring, one of the most significant losses I had experienced was the death of my grandmother, who was instrumental in my upbringing, pictured here in all her floral glory (Hong Kong, 1969). With the death of my dad, it re-opened old wounds, and seeing her in the videos reminded me of how lovely and vivacious she was.

The videos also temporarily brought back to life all the people we’ve lost over the years, both grandparents as well as our aunts and uncle. Seeing all of these familiar faces re-opened feelings of loss but we were still more grateful than sad about it.

It’s now been about three weeks since Annette and I watched the movies, and I’ve had a bit of time to mull over my feelings. I’m glad that I have these records of the people I’ve lost, and the videos provide me a way to see and remember the things I feared I might forget, the way they moved, their voices, their laughter but more importantly, these videos have reminded me that there’s something more vital that needs to be remembered: they were all individual people. They each had dreams and ambitions, they had goals that they wanted to achieve. They were perfect in some ways and flawed in others. They had good days and bad moments. They were multi-faceted and nuanced and they all had their own personalities, and their own spirits. Remembering all of that is what’s important.

This lesson couldn’t be more timely because this Sunday, as I’ve been writing about over the last four months, is the Terry Fox Run, which raises money for cancer research and supports such.an.important.cause. In addition to helping out the Terry Fox Organization, each person participating in this weekend is also committing an act of remembrance for Terry, an icon of perseverance and dedication, as well as for whomever they may be running for and that is valuable in itself.

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2 thoughts

    1. Thank you for your comment, and truly I’m sorry for your losses. I’m trying to find a balance between hanging on to the memories that I have and not spending too much time looking backwards but it’s a daily struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

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