In my teen years, if anyone left me any money when they passed away, I figured I could do what I wanted to with it: the person was dead. Not only that, but I also thought “honouring their memory” was silly, because, well, the person was dead. Yes, I could be cold. (And no, I didn’t spend the money; my parents stepped in so I wouldn’t buy a colour-screen laptop when they first appeared on the market and cost you all your limbs.)
This thought arose from my walk home on Halloween this week: I’d switched from my hiking shoes, which I’d purchased with a small amount of money my grandmother had left me, to my winter hiking boots. I walk 5 km four times a week, so I need solid shoes.
Why is this significant? When I found out Oma had left me some money three years ago, my first question was, “How can I honour her memory?” and not “What I can I get for this amount?” Good-quality hiking shoes ended up answering both questions: Oma never learned how to drive when she arrived in Canada (she failed her first test, and out of pride refused to take it again), so she walked everywhere. After almost every doctor’s appointment, she’d make a point of telling me how her doctor commended her on all her walking. Oma took pride in walking to the grocery store, too, as she pull her shopping cart behind her.
This post isn’t meant to be a memorial to my grandmother but rather a reflection on how we honour someone’s memory. Once I’ve walked through the soles of those shoes, I will throw them out: they’re not meant to be kept. How does keeping a pair of stinky shoes honour my grandmother’s memory? I don’t believe it does. And that begs the next question: Why bother honouring someone’s memory with a disposable product? Shouldn’t I be visiting her grave at least once a year?
Annual visits to a grave may have their history in showmanship, or they may have been the only tangible way to remember that someone had even shared part of your life with you. But today, I find the requirement encroaching. (Of course, if you do visit graves of loved ones with some regularity, there’s nothing wrong with that, either. I’m talking here about the requirement to do so.)
For me, the point of honouring someone’s memory is to remind yourself of your own story: how you grew up, what you were taught, and, ultimately, who helped you along that journey. Those shoes don’t remind me of Oma every time I wear them. But when they do, I sometimes lose myself a memory or two, usually happy ones, sometimes regretful ones. Then I remember a little bit about where I fit in the wheel of life, and that memory centres me again.
Do you find it useful honouring those who’ve passed away? If so, feel free to share what you do.