Monday, September 29, 2008

Memory

Yesterday a dear friend who lost her husband in August held a quiet afternoon-tea-shaped gathering at her home, a 'one month's mind' to remember him in a less fraught and more reflective setting than any funeral or wake can be. I'd heard of the 'one year's mind' from friends in Austria, but the idea of a month was new to me. It's a wonderful idea though. Forty or so people fronted up yesterday with assorted drinks, lovely food and carefully chosen flowers to sit about for a few hours, catch up, reminisce.

Four large albums of family photos had been stacked up for people to look through, and much looking through did indeed take place. I looked at all of them, and there were quite a few there that I actually took myself. Among them, and on reflection I can't think why this gave me such a shock, were several images of my darling ma, who died nearly ten years ago.

There was one particularly sweet shot of her holding baby M -- who's now 21 and was very much present yesterday, dancing around getting people drinks and making skilful conversation -- on her knee, a picture that knocked me sideways for complicated reasons I am still trying to untangle. It's something about the unexpected conjunction of two people who are very dear to you, which is complicated enough even without the added long-time factor. Some weird triangulation takes place. But in this case it was more a sort of pentangulation, a party of five: M and me looking at the photo; my mum in life; M-as-baby; and the me of 20 years ago to whom that sight was sufficiently meaningful and moving to frame it in my camera lens and take a photo of it.

It strikes me that this is what novelists do, or rather what novelists are for: to write of interwoven webs of intimacy over time, with an awareness of the long view. And the long view isn't usually part of people's daily lives until some emblem of it appears, with the turn of a page, and shockingly, before our eyes.

4 comments:

fifi said...

That's beautiful.

Fyodor said...

Don't know about Austria, but the Month's Mind is traditional and common practice in Ireland. It's a RC thing, but any ceremony to do with death is taken particularly seriously in Ireland.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ah, that would explain it then -- there are strong Irish connections on both sides of that family. They said they'd played all the Irish music in the house the night he died, which I trust included the Voice Squad singing 'A stor mo chridh'.

*sobs at the very thought*

M-H said...

I used the ideas of a 'month's mind' when my late partner died suddenly. I found it a lovely way to catch up with people whom I was too discombobulated to talk to at the funeral. It was a quiet afternoon, although about thirty people were there. I put out her scarves and jewellery and collection of political badges, and many picked things for themselves.