as long as we remember

We have one photograph of all five of us, a selfie taken on the living room rug.  It's printed in black and white and framed in Tolliver's bedroom.  Recently he moved the image from across the room to the table right beside his bed.

Last week, when Tucker brought up her name, Andy asked what he remembered most about her.  Tuck said that she liked applesauce with cinnamon, and that she kept her eyes closed a lot and was usually napping.  

That’s the part that bothers me, that the memory of a sister’s short life wound up colored by the dysfunction of disease.
Sometimes I write down memories for the benefit of my boys, her brothers.  Other times we talk about her together.  Andy reminded Tucker that he used to put the back of his head against hers and press their hair together, how the silent way they spoke taught us to really hear.

When the boys ask questions, we follow each random trail to the fullest conclusion we can.  We try to tell them things they don’t remember or never fully knew, to put words and images to the blurriness of their recollections.  They are fascinated by the idea that she walked around this house, that she talked about shoes and dogs and cheese, that she was alive.
She is more than a sad little ghost caught in a single picture frame.  She is more than a historical event.  She is more than hazy, half-glimpsed visions of red curls and pill bottles, ivory skin and wasted youth.

None of us had the privilege of really knowing her as she grew, but we tell them what we can.  Who knows what might sift through and lodge in the scaffolding of their brains, but they are not too young to understand the currency of memories, how they keep you company.  They learned early on about the clenching muscle of the heart, the way it wants to grasp the ungraspable, preserve the ephemeral.

Of course she is still your sister, we say.  People die, but our relationship with them does not.
She did like cherry yogurt just like you!  Yes, and donuts and pizza too.
That's right, her feet were pointed like a ballerina, we agree, saving symptoms of immobility for another time.
But there was no medicine, we have to remind to Tollie. 

Her story is so filled with horror I wish it were not ours to tell.  It is also a story of adventure, of danger and survival, of grief and loss, of starting fresh, of creating, losing, rebuilding a sense of home, of family, of old friends lost and new friends made, of sibling bonds.  Telling them things they don't remember but which belong to them is like cracking open a space in their self-identity and pouring in the backstory. 
This is where you came from.  This is what we once feared and grieved and how we moved forward.  Her story is your story too, this is who we are.


Poppy John said...

"Shoes"...Poppy remembers.


Kathryn said...

Years ago I watched a TV movie called "I Remember Love." The main character, played by Joanne Woodward was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the viewers watched as her mind was rapidly stolen away. While she was still somewhat able she gave a speech, saying that yes, she had forgotten many, many things. Then, with a huge smile on her face, she said, " but I remember love." My prayer for all of you is that when your thoughts turn to Celia, you will always remember love.

rht said...

Last weekend Tollie noticed the necklace I was wearing and said, "My mom has a necklace like that." I said, "Yes, our necklaces match. They were made to remind us of Celia's beautiful curls." Tollie nodded his head and said, "Of course." Among other things, I will tell the brothers about how much their sister liked to taste new foods, about the way wind in the trees made her smile, about how much she enjoyed hearing music, and about the happy way in which she greeted the world -- "Hi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i!"