I remember visiting my mom the last 10 years of her life and frequently thinking how weird it must be to have outlived most of the people she knew. She had outlived her siblings, two husbands, neighbors, friends, and colleagues. There weren’t many people left who could remember “when”—those funny stories, poignant moments, trips, and tales. I used to wonder how you survive so much loss.
Now, I’m much younger than my mother was then, and have seen too many husbands, children, friends, neighbors, and colleagues die. Already, I remember some special moments, and realize that those who I shared them with are no longer here.
I am not alone. Many of my friends have experienced incredible loss. And these days, with a pandemic, continuing international conflicts, devastating cancers, overdoses, suicides, murders and more, it’s amazing that some of us are still standing.
So, what to make of it all? My mom used to say, “Remember the best; forget the rest.” And it is crazy what you remember. My mom loved chardonnay, onion rings and Pavarotti. My husband was obsessed with Ingrid Bergman. We watched every movie she made countless times. My best friend, an English major, quoted Keats at the slightest provocation.
What I remember most about the people now gone are those small thoughtful gestures they made. Showing up to pick me up in a rainstorm—an unexpected treat. Flowers that arrived at my office to let me know they were thinking of me during the anniversary of a loss. A friend who drove several miles to take my dog for a walk when my flight was significantly delayed.
So perhaps one lesson from all this is to focus on making special memories—special efforts—with those who are still here. Recently, I took a job back in the city, and the best parts of my days are when I witness acts of kindness. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a teenager walk an elderly man across the street when the light was ready to turn. I’ve seen a bilingual woman help a Latino woman communicate with a pharmacist about a prescription. I’ve watched a teenager take a heavy grocery cart from an elderly woman and walk her all the way to her apartment. I work in a bookstore, and I watched a bookseller help a customer locate a book when the customer couldn’t remember the author, title, or much of the plot. It was a joyful moment when through detailed questions, the mystery was solved!
So, in this crazy society where we are too quick to judge, too quick to find fault, let’s just stop. Let’s agree that there is too much judging. Too much criticizing. Too much cruelty. Too little empathy. Too little compassion. I may sound like Pollyanna, but trust me. It’s those little acts of kindness that make it all worthwhile.
Sometimes, I remember my shortness of temper, my frustration, with those who have died and wish I had the opportunity to redeem myself—to have a do-over. It’s too late to make amends to them. But it’s not too late for those who are still here.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a Federal human capital consulting practice of an international consulting firm. She currently is the HR Director for Politics and Prose Bookstore in D.C. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, piano, gardening, nature, and travel.