A Shoebox Full of Memories
“Now I’m alone in this room — with your life on my knees — a shoebox full of memories”
— ©Kodachrome Ghosts/James Dean Bradfield*
Many of us will have these boxes, filled with photos and odd mementos to remember a time, a person or a life. For me this box contains the small sad reminders of lives cut short too soon. Hopes and dreams they never got to fulfill and the small forest worth of cards sent to comfort and reassure.
Our box of memories began nearly 5 years ago (October marks the 5th anniversary, 4 days after the Wave of Light day on the 15th) when our little twin boys (Bear cubs) were stillborn. Along with their ashes and photos our box is the only solid thing we have to remember their tiny short lives, to prove they existed and are loved.
Within these boxes are the most mundane of things. The receipt for the baby bedding never to be delivered or the double buggy refund slip that paid for their caskets (never coffins, we were adamant there would be no tiny coffins). These items acquire a talismanic quality. Even a cheesy Father’s Day card ‘from the bump’ mock — solemnly promising a lifetime of piano, ties and socks. It becomes unbearably sad.
Our box of memories currently lives with us in our room although I rarely visit it. I prefer the convenience of going through the saved pictures on our laptop. There is no set time, or day, that reminds me to take a look. Mostly it is around anniversaries but sometimes just because I find myself clicking through the Bear cubs’ folder looking at the many photos of the day that we lost our twin sons.
There is something different about physically rifling through a box of these reminders as opposed to viewing the same photos on screen. Whereas an online folder of digitally enhanced, cleaned and neatly edited photos can be there to present the best possible images of a harrowing day, the crappy, poorly lit and badly composed photos we have in the memory box have a peculiar charm of their own.
There are so many more than I remembered. A bulging envelope stuffed to breaking point shows how we all kept mashing away to capture everything, every facet of the day, no matter how ordinary or bizarre.
Sometimes when flicking through it almost feels like crude stop-motion animation. Even in the blurriest photo I can see the tension in my shoulders as I hug my son a little tighter when someone intrudes on an intensely private and personal moment, only relaxing again once they slink out of shot.
There was also something to be said about feeling the physical weight of the condolence cards as I mechanically sorted them into neat, manageable piles, dimly noting the variations of a theme and the endless parade of soothing images of flowers and sad bears with tiny, crumpled faces.
My favourite came from a friend. Rather than just writing “I don’t know what to say” he explained how long he had thought about the right words; the right way to offer comfort and hope only to realise that nothing, nothing he could say would take the pain away. I loved his honesty.
I had similar heartfelt messages from friends on Facebook but the churn of time has buried them deep in my timeline. Thoughtful emails from workmates lost to periodic email wipes.
Memory boxes like this feel as though they are becoming a relic. As technology takes over our lives, it seems memories and images are no longer kept in scuffed cardboard boxes, but in clouds. These clouds give us the cosy illusion of security offering the seductive promise of forever safeguarding our most precious and intimate moments.
For a bereaved parent such a promise is hugely reassuring, a chance to share and protect the memories that made up the short life of their child. By sharing these images and stories with the world we can show the world that they were here — and they did live. Despite the deceptive strength of stigma and taboo, our children did exist, and they will be remembered.
The danger is though that this security is as insubstantial as its namesake. These services are not provided out of the goodness of heart or some kind of affection, but as a trade-off for data. There is a possibility that the services we entrust as guardians of our lost children’s memory could disappear or suddenly charge for access.
It is the cold realisation that I have been doing this without thinking. With the near obsessive documentation of our rainbow children (driven by the fear that this may be all we have left), sharing their lives — from their ultrasound images to birthdays to countless ‘firsts’ (and one day ‘lasts’) — I have put their online lives in the hands of strangers.
Knowing their memories are part of the clouds is comforting and almost poetic. But fluffy clouds of digital memories can’t match the bittersweet surprise of finding a forgotten letter, and the rush of memories sparked by bruised and broken words. (These memories wrapped in flimsy cardboard, but I will keep them close). I am their father and even if I couldn’t protect them from death I can protect their memories so that they can live on in our hearts.
*Lyrics by Lyrics By — John NivenMixed By, Engineer [Addidtional] — Loz WilliamsMusic By, Co-producer — James Dean BradfieldProducer, Engineer — Alex Silva
(Note from The Editor: We were incredibly touched that Shoebox of Memories agreed to Guest Write for The Glass House. His take on Infant Loss from a fathers point of view really highlights the lack of support for fathers in this situation. He writes many more moving posts over at his personal blog which you can view here. Alternatively, learn more about him over on his dedicated Authors page here.)
Originally published at theglasshousegirls.com on March 3, 2016.