True story: a much shorter version of this current piece was originally going to be part of a different story on the aftermath of grief.
One year into my grieving process, I’m still raw, still ravaged, still unhinged, still waiting for that whole “time is a healer” thing to kick in. I still have so many unanswered questions and so many experiences that I did not envisage happening and, therefore, wasn’t prepared for.
And while there are many articles and books out there about what to expect after suffering a devastating loss, there were some experiences I had that were so odd—odd enough that there was little in the way of materials available for me to derive strength from.
So, I decided to write about one of these experiences.
As I mulled over this past year, the one overwhelming emotion I have is that of regret.
And while I have many regrets, there is one that stands a head above all else. Initially, I thought it was just me. But when I tentatively brought this up in my grief groups, there was a collective sigh of, “Yes! I feel the exact same way!” and, “I wish I had done this more when my person was alive!”
I quickly realized that I had to devote an entire post to this one key thing we should all do—but often don’t.
This is for anyone who is out there living a perfectly happy life today, one without any worries of loss (and believe me, I hope it stays that way). Or for anyone who is on the cusp of losing someone. Or for anyone who has been through tragedy and connects with my experience. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone; there are many of us in this situation and we see you, we feel you. Trust me.
But before I explain the one thing we should all do, let me just start by saying a little something about memories.
Something happens in the aftermath of loss: we lose the memories of our loved ones.
Our memory is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Regardless of when our loved one passes or how long they lived, eventually we will lose our memories of them. It may happen years into the future or sooner than we’d like, but our memory will fade.
Our memories of their behavior, their demeanor, their mannerisms, their voice, their arrogant hair toss. That quirky sound they made when they laughed too hard, and that rolling of their eyes when they knew you’d just lied to them. The raise in their voice when you went too far, and that wistful tone on the phone when you were across the proverbial seven seas and they wouldn’t see you for another year and you could tell how much they missed you. The soothing touch of their palms and fingers combing over your hair as you pretended to be a child and lay in their lap, the gentle massage only they could give you when you’d get a migraine, and their wide eyes when they’d pretend to be innocent (No! I did not have the last brownie. I promise!)
Trust me, it will all start to go.
We strut around thinking we will never, ever forget the person we love most. We argue that we have a monumental memory or the other person was far too important for us to ever forget them. Right?
The biggest and most unfortunate truth I’ve learned in my first year of life-changing grief is that memory fades. I used to think it was because of age, and maybe that’s true. But I’ve noticed much younger people battling this as well. And I think it has to do with the process of death itself. Our body instinctively understands that the other person is gone, and our brain makes way for new people to enter our lives and take over our minds. This is just my guess. Maybe it only happens like this to me. Or not.
Either way, it’s why we have to do this one thing when our loved ones are still alive.
This one thing may seem so simple and ordinary, but it’s this simple thing that so many of us take for granted and don’t do when we can, only to regret and repent and cry after our loved one is gone. So here goes:
For the love of all things God, please take pictures and videos of your loved ones. As many as you can. Please document their lives.
Do this one thing if you don’t do anything else.
I cannot tell you how many people, even now, shrug when I give them this advice. I’m tired of hearing how they “remember everything” and they don’t need to take pictures or videos because “they will never, ever forget,” or “Omg, Roopa! My loved one is not sick or dying! They will be around for a long, long time. So, just chill, okay?”
Such f*cking idiots. Except, I was one of those f*cking idiots myself.
We won’t remember everything. Life goes on. We move on. And one of the biggest tragedies is that our memory will let us down. In the immediate aftermath, we might remember each and every quirky detail of the person we lost. But as time goes by, those memories will lessen, and when we forget—we will start to yearn.
Yearn to hear their voice. Yearn to see them cook in the kitchen again. Yearn to see them talk on the phone with their friend. Yearn to hear them give you advice on how to apply coconut oil for long and healthy hair. We will desperately look through our phone to see if we have any images or videos of them.
And like me, when we don’t, we’ll berate ourselves.
Why didn’t I take more pictures? Why didn’t I record more videos of them? We now live in a world where our phones make it so easy to document our memories, by the thousands. So, take those pictures and videos and save them to your hard drive or a backup USB, or the damn cloud.
Take it from someone who is smart and savvy, someone who has a f*cking PhD for God’s sake, and still did not take nearly as many pictures and videos as I should have. I talked a big game to everyone about how every single day with our near and dear ones could be our last, and I still thought I had more time, that I could do it tomorrow.
And then one day, tomorrow never came.
When our loved ones are children, we document everything. But as they grow older, that changes. Sometimes they shrug us off or roll their eyes, or say “Live your life, Roopa! Experience the joy by living instead of seeing everything through a phone camera.”
My advice when people lob these pearls of wisdom at you? Toss it right back at them and pull out the camera anyway.
There is no time like right now. So, grab your phone, click the record button, point it at your loved one, and get them to talk to you. Or take candid videos of them as they’re going about their day. Don’t let their objections or people’s well-meaning comments about “experiencing life” stop you from documenting the memories that you’ll one day be happy to relive.
Watching them as they make you breakfast and argue with you about staying out late or dating a jerk. Watching the way they walk and move, and hearing the way they speak and sing. These moments will give you solace during the gut-wrenching grieving process. These moments will soothe you like nothing else.
So, don’t wait. Because there’s no guarantee that tomorrow will come.