The heart has a memory

As part of a Remember Me Conference Showcase Series, guest-blogger, Jasmine Brammer, from Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust in Melbourne, Australia, shares a deeply personal account of the importance of cemetery visits as acts of Remembrance.

As someone facing a year of moments without my mother, I’m increasingly aware of the giant space that’s opened where that gentle, pint-sized lady once stood.

When I visit my mother’s memorial at Springvale Botanical Cemetery, evidence of other family and friends greets me, and I realise how many others miss her too, by the number of tributes they leave behind. Her favourite flowers, gifted straight from the garden of a friend, sit alongside the traditional Greek lamp within the monument’s tribute box. The oil is kept topped up by her stream of visitors, burning in continuous vigil like the one she always kept alight at home. My daughter’s tiny clay pot, specially designed to fit her grandmother’s bingo coins, sits amidst the tribute box offerings of love.

Her memorial has become a focal point to translate our memories of her into a tangible form with items that brought her joy or were part of a simple daily ritual she held dear. These are physical reminders of a unique individual who cultivated endless moments, now memories, within the tight circle of family and friends she loved and who loved her in return.

“The heart, like the mind, has a memory. And in it are kept the most precious keepsakes.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our attempts to generate presence in the face of my mother’s absence is not unusual. Honouring the unique lives of our loved ones is a key part of the grieving process and often takes the form of creating physical reminders of them. I’ve noted many personal tributes left at memorials. These items embody specific moments and pleasures, pursuits and personality traits of loved ones that are still keenly felt by those who once shared a common ground with them and are looking to find ways to bridge the gap left by their passing.

For some, this can mean creating a monument or an inscription that illustrate the personality of their loved ones for future generations to connect with. Some will compress a portion of their loved one’s ashes into a diamond they can wear and keep close. For others, it can be the simplest of acts, like eating a favourite sweet treat at their graveside.

Missing someone at Christmas

Whatever our differences in terms of the array of tributes we leave behind, we are united as humans in that we all experience death and loss at some point in our lives and we will each in our own way, grieve. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow understood the need to keep memories alive and once said, “The heart, like the mind, has a memory. And in it are kept the most precious keepsakes.” Memorials and tributes are an outward representation of the keepsakes in our hearts and I’m learning how important having a memorial to visit and place tributes on is for the healing process of those left behind. They provide a central point where we can feel unified in our loss.

For my part, I feel a sense of connection and gain a great deal of comfort knowing there is a collective of people caring for my mother. The relationship we had with her is still there even if she isn’t. We will move through this time of grief together, peppered by the moments we can no longer share with her, but unified nonetheless. Which is exactly what she would have wanted.

This piece was originally  posted on the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust blog page on 20 December 2017 and has been re-posted with their kind permission.

The Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (SMCT) is a community based, not-for-profit organisation, committed to serving the needs of our communities. Formed in March 2010 under the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003, SMCT is accountable to the Department of Health and administers Bunurong and Cheltenham Memorial Parks, Brighton General, Cheltenham Pioneer, Dandenong Community, Melbourne General, Springvale Botanical and St Kilda cemeteries.

Jasmine’s colleague, Sunita Varlamos, The Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust Community Engagement Office will have a poster: “Memorial Forms and Purposes for Asian Buddhists in Australia” at the Remember Me Conference (4-7 April 2018) displaying the SMCT’s work on Song He Yuan, the only dedicated Feng Shui Buddhist memorial garden in Australia.

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