The Practice of Remembering

Shepherd tombston



pot of geraniums

There are so many things we forget: keys, passwords, New Year’s Resolutions, important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. We also forget to take medicine, get things at the store, pay bills, return calls or answer emails.  But there are some things we should always remember.

This Memorial Day, our daughter Molly and our grandchildren, Grace and Gannon, drove with me to Fort Scott for the weekend. We went to visit my mother, to take her fun foods, and to sing songs and read to her, hold her hand and talk to her until she fell asleep at night.  It was our way of making contact and thanking her.   Without her, none of us would be here.

People were scattered throughout the cemetery adorning other tombstones when we took fresh silk flower bouquets to my father’s gravesite. We removed the faded silks and greenery from the marble vases at each end of Dad’s headstone, and we put bright bouquets of spring flowers in their place.  As we paused for a few private words and thoughts, we left pennies lined up along the top as a reminder we’d been there.

Molly divided the extra flowers into four groups, one for each of us. We went our separate ways to find neglected tombstones—no newer than 1899—in need of care, attention, and kind words.  It was a serious, touching time, each of us showing respect for a stranger who had been forgotten.

old headstone

Author Tess Gerritson wrote: “Only the forgotten are truly dead.”

It’s also a lesson for remembering the living. Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “And none will hear the postman’s knock ~ Without the quickening of the heart ~ For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”

When the four of us returned to my mother’s apartment, she was waking from a nap. We sat around her and told her about the flowers we’d taken to Dad’s grave, and how nice it all looked. She smiled, then asked, “What about my sister Wanda? She deserves flowers, too.” I explained that Wanda was in Tennessee (I didn’t say she was buried there) and I was certain her children visited her with flowers, too. Mom smiled and nodded.

Then we put fresh flowers in a vase and set it next to Mary Elizabeth—nicknamed Mary Ibbeth by her siblings—because she deserves flowers, too.  On Memorial Day special care must also be given to remind the living how much they are still appreciated.

vase of flowers

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.

So her great-grandchildren will remember how much she loved and enjoyed them before the dementia, we show them pictures from years ago.



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

48 responses to “The Practice of Remembering

  1. My favorite line from this post, “What about my sister Wanda? She deserves flowers, too.” Oh, Marylin…your mother’s heart makes me smile. Hugs to your sweet mother. xo

  2. juliabarrett

    I agree – her sister Wanda. Your mother is a miracle. I’ve always felt that remembering makes for a pitiful eternity. When I was a teenager our rabbi said eternity is in the hearts of those who cherish our memory. I figured that was a bad deal. Paltry. You’re gone in a generation or two. 😉

    • I agree with your rabbi who said eternity is in the hearts of those who cherish our memory, Julia. Even the generations before my mother–the women who were my mother’s mother and my dad’s mother–still live in our hearts. My dad’s mother especially, who lives in the heart and life of her great-great-granddaughter who is named for her…Grace. 🙂

  3. Your idea to “share the love” with, and memorialize those who might other wise be neglected is so beautiful, Marylin. And…I love the picture of your mother with your grand-children. Such a beautiful way to share memories with your grand-children…a picture is worth a thousand words. Have a wonderful week.

    • Molly has a uniquely touching way of creating meaningful activities on the spur of the moment, Robyn, and this was one of them. I hope it it meant as much to the kids (almost 13 and almost 12) as it did to me. Here were these graves from the late 1800s, with no one left to remember or pay tribute to them, and we chose them, spent a moment with a stranger and then put flowers on the grave. It’s something I’ll never forget.
      I wish you a wonderful week, too, dear Robyn.

  4. Marylin, what a beautiful post. I loved the idea of lining up pennies and separating the flowers. And visiting unkempt graves was so touching. Also, saying Wanda lived elsewhere was precious. So glad you and your family were able to visit and make your mom happy. ❤️

    • I’m not sure of the reference, Tracy, but as we left we noticed pebbles lined up on some of the headstones, and little trinkets and keepsakes on the headstones of others. I’m not sure if our pennies were lucky pennies because my father was a man of strong faith. But I hope he smiled down on his great-grandchildren, his granddaughter and his daughter leaving pennies on his headstone, and then going out and putting flowers on the old graves that had been forgotten. ❤

  5. I feel the stitching in your family network growing tighter with each post. The surge of memoir writing in the last decade or so speaks to one’s wish to be remembered, to live on, I think.

    Your quotes are so affecting, the photos too.I especially like the one with the two scuba divers and their great Nana, smiling from ear to ear.

    • I love that picture, too, Marian. Growing up on a farm, my mother never became a proficient swimmer, and she loved how the kids snorkeled around and loved playing in the water.
      I know Nana is an endearment for many grandmothers, but in our family I’m the Mor-Mor (Swedish for mother’s mother), and my mother is Mor-Mor-Mor (for mother’s mother’s mother.) Our daughter’s undergraduate college was Bethany College in the Swedish community of Lindsborg, and when Grace was born she had two sets of grandparents and 2 sets of great-grandparents plus one great-grandmother all waiting to welcome her, so the grandparenting names were pretty well spoken for.
      Then my daughter told me I would be Mor-Mor, and I loved it right away. It just felt right. Jim was supposed to be Mor-Far (Mother’s Father) but had always wanted to be Grandpa, and no one had taken that, so it was his.
      There is close stitching in our family, and it grows tighter each year. We’re all grateful for this and value the connections in our lives. I get the feeling it’s much the same way in your family and with your grandchildren.

  6. Jane Sturgeon

    I love the sparkling and sure stitches in your family’s tapestry Marylin and how the love flowed out to those who have passed so many years ago. Bless you all. The photo of your dear Mum and her intrepid water explorers is a gem. Thank you for this post, it’s a joy to visit as always. ❤ with hugs Xx

    • The kids were so young then–this picture was taken almost eight years ago–but we all still love it because it shows their great-grandmother when the dementia was just getting started, while she still loved watching them learn and do fun things. She was proud of them and there was no question how much she enjoyed and loved them.
      It’s always a joy reading your comments, Jane. Many hugs. ❤

  7. What a lovely way to remember your father and strangers who have been forgotten. It is important to instil the practice of remembering. When my aunt and I were children we used to visit the local graveyard and wander about the headstones, wondering who those people had been and giving them stories. I love that your mother remembered her sister. The quotes are awesome.

    • And the amazing thing, Darlene, was that Mom was so lucid and specific about wanting to know if Wanda got flowers, too. The caregiver reported that for more than a week my mother was talkative, but it was garbled and rambling, so the importance of her sister also getting special flowers amazed us all. She also ate better while we were there; I think she really enjoyed have young people around, even it she didn’t realize that these were her great-grandchildren. 😉

  8. Your beautiful practice of remembrance and your references to the Swedish community reminded me of another blogger introducing her child to the Swedish practice of remembering.

    I often wonder who will remember the family graves when I am gone; it’s good to remember that there are people like you who take time to remember others.

    • Thanks for the link, Gallivanta. Lindsborg is an amazing small college town, rich in Swedish history and traditions. Molly’s plan to have each of us take flowers to lay on the very old, forgotten and uncared for graves of strangers was very special, and I think the kids will remember it, too.

  9. Marylin, thank you for this beautiful post. My father passed away nineteen years ago on Father’s Day and it’s been almost a year since I visited his grave. I will go and take a flower from my yard.
    What a beautiful tribute it is for your family to place flowers on the graves of others. Aren’t those real old tombstones just fascinating? I know a few old cemeteries myself and love to read those gravestones.

    • My hometown, Ft. Scott, was actually a pre-Cival War Fort Scott, and has the #1 National Cemetery since it’s even older than Arlington. Evergreen Cemetery, where my father is buried, has many crumbling markers from the early 1800s scattered throughout the rolling hills.
      There’s something about cemeteries that I find touching and fascinating, deserving of care and respect. I was glad that my grandchildren weren’t afraid to choose a marker and put flowers at the base.
      When I was growing up, my friends thought I was crazy, that cemeteries were creepy, haunted places. 😦

  10. Lovely post Marylin…and your final picture of your two adorable Grandies with their great grandma is delightful. The family resemblance is obvious! 😉

    • It’s one of my favorite pictures of my mom’s very early dementia visits with Grace and Gannon, Jenny. She was never a good swimmer, so she was very supportive and encouraging of her great-grandchildren’s adventures as “deep sea” explorers. 😉

  11. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Such precious thoughts beautifully expressed, Marylin. Thank you.

  12. What a great thing to do Marylin, to expand that remembering to those who would otherwise be forgotten.

    • And the grandchildren (almost 13 and 12) participated with such respect and thoughtfulness for the forgotten graves, Andrea. It was very touching to watch them, and it gave new meaning to me for Memorial Day. ❤

  13. Your story of taking flowers to the graves of people you never knew is a great example I may try sometime! Thanks. I just wrote yesterday on my blog of a dear woman, Emily, in my small group at church, whose diagnosis of Alzheimer’s touched and grieved me deeply. She and her husband JIm, who is still living, will stay strong in my memory–as long as I have one–for all their kinds deeds for hundreds. Jim just gave us the sweetest 40th anniversary gift–a free lunch for my family and I. Such a sweetheart. Just had to share.

    • Leaving flowers on uncared for graves was very touching for me, Melodie, I still think about it.
      When my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it began a difficult, off-and-on Rage Stage that lasted seven years, and their friends from church were a comfort to him and my mother for years. And the same was true when my mom’s dementia became obvious, except she kept her sweet, content, calm personality even though she often forgot who/where she was. I’m glad you shared about your friends; it’s good to see how others stay strong in their friend’s memories, too.

  14. Melodie, your comment led me to your excellent post, to try again to leave a comment. This post has a touching combination of memories, celebrations, and important messages and passages in life. It’s the first time I’ve been able to leave a comment on your blog without it disappearing! Yea! ❤

    • I think I remember you telling me you tried before–how frustrating. That certainly pours cold water on any commenter’s enthusiasm! Glad you seem to be “in” the circle now and OK! I promise, I did not reject any comments from you, although it could be that I missed seeing one and accidentally deleted the email notification thinking I had already seen/responded.

      • I still don’t know what I did differently to make it work, Melodie–maybe I held my mouth open just right or something–but I’m so glad it went through! 🙂

  15. I like taking my grand nephews to the cemetery in Germany where my family has graves. They always help me pull some weeds and water the graves. Your are teaching your grandchildren kindness and caring, how beautiful Marylin.

    • Thank you, Gerlinde. What you do with your grand-nephews is also teaching them the same kindness and caring, and anything we do them to pay respect–pull weeds, water, leave flowers, etc.–it’s all making a difference.

  16. Jim

    I know how much you all enjoyed the trip to visit Mary and the cemetery by the thoughtful discussion we had over the dinner table upon your return. It was such a caring gesture for each of you to choose a ‘forgotten’ grave upon which to place a flower. You provided an opportunity for G&G to gain an appreciation for ancestry and perhaps to realize their turn is coming to continue the unbroken chain. I just really liked this post. Well done.

    • Thank you, honey. The interest you showed confirmed the importance of what they’d done. My mom really did respond to the kids’ voices–I think their youthful energy and caring has an effect on her–and it didn’t matter if she didn’t fully realize these were her great-grandchildren. She knew they were people who care about her, that that’s what counts. ❤ ❤ ❤
      And you were puppy Scout's guardian angel while we were gone, and was a really important job! 🙂

  17. It’s so wonderful the way your family remembers all your loved ones, those gone ahead and those living still, with such beautiful and loving hearts. What a blessing for your dear mom…and you bless me so much with your beautiful, loving heart Marylin ❤

    • Oh, thank you, Sherri. It was indeed a very special time for us that weekend, being with my mom and having her respond even though she was quite sure who we were. But we knew, and we appreciated that this was my mother, Molly’s grandmother, Grace and Gannon’s great-grandmother, which reaffirmed to the kids how strong this connection is.
      Then to go to my dad’s gravesite and make the connection added to this appreciation. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the strong emotion and sensitivity when we chose forgotten graves and left flowers and paid our respects. These were not the graves of those who were connected to us, but still they were important. It was quite the reminder. 😉 ❤

      • Yes, that must have been such a powerful moment Marylin. I was so touched to read about it. So many would just walk by without even thinking of such things, but you with your sensitive and caring heart, teaching the same to your family through the generations with your actions, helps makes this world a better place, reminds us all that nobody should be forgotten, ever. I was determined to keep the connection strong between my English family and my American children when we lived in CA through our visits back ‘home’. I am eternally grateful that they spent many happy times with my granny, their great-grandmother, and now with their granny (my mum) and uncle and cousins. Our family is small, but we are blessed with a strong connection even if we don’t see one another every day. It is what happens when we do see one another that counts…and the love that stays strong inbetween. But I don’t need to explain this to you because, my dear friend, you live it every day 🙂 ❤

      • Sherri, the role you play in keeping your small family connected is also shown in the loving attention to detail you employ to keep your blogging friends connected and intertwined. You have a gift, my friend, you really do.

      • You are so kind dear Marylin…thank you so much for the warmth you bring to my heart <32

  18. Hi Marylin!

    I love when you say that without her none of you would exist. Beautiful 🙂 Hugs, Ilka

  19. Molly


    Grace, Gannon and I all loved reading and remembering our Fort Scott visit. We sure had fun spreading “ginger” joy all over Fort Scott! It is always so fun to share one of my favorite places, Ft. Scott, with the kids! I always will have such fond memories of my summers there with Grandma and Grandpa. I just hope that us going down to see Grandma makes her feel as special as she always made me feel. Thanks for painting the memory for us! Love you so much!

  20. You and Grandma always had such fun together, and came up with so many activities to share. It she could have watched you and your children–her great-grandchildren–leaving pennies on the top of Grandpa’s tombstone and putting flowers on very old, forgotten graves in the cemetery, she would have been so proud. And then she would have hugged you all and said, “Let’s go to Dairy Queen.” Love you forever and ever, Mookie! I see so much of you in my mother and my grandmother.

  21. It warms my heart to think of you all there with your mom, holding her hand and talking to her until she fell asleep.

    • Thank you, Darla. It was a very special time. And when we read aloud to her from her favorite book of Children’s Poems and Prayers, after each reading that ended with the word “day”–and so many did–we all sang together, “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord hath made…” and she would smile. It did as much for our spirits as hers. ❤

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