We Didn’t Know It Was Special

Jeanne M. Lambin
Nostalgia Monkey
Published in
3 min readJun 8, 2022

Today — memories, grief, and reflecting on what matters.

This Friday, June 10th would have been my Dad’s birthday. To be more precise his 101s birthday. To be honest, this advanced age makes the birthdays a bit harder because it is such an unlikely age. It has the weird impact of feeling like another loss.

The picture below is of my dad, Henry J. Lambin (1921–1996). One day, when I was a kid, we were looking through old photos and came across this one below. I loved the car in the picture and wondered aloud why we didn’t have the car any more. My Dad, paused for a moment and then reflected, “because we didn’t know it was special.”

It has been decades since we had that conversation and I still think about it. How many things, how many moments, how many people pass through our lives and we don’t really realize they are special, or just how special they are until they are gone? And even if we do, there is the looming sense that eventually we have to let go. How many moments do we let slip by because we are not paying attention?

Grief is such a peculiar emotion. It traverses three time zones: past, present, and future. The intensity of emotion is so felt and so present. Then, there is the sadness for what has passed. Then it is rooted in the future, the projection of what will never be…again.

And oddly, in all this, it can be hard to be in the now, especially in the now that is now. It can be hard to not panic about the inevitable losses that are to come. Anticipatory grief.

And although it often felt unbearable at the time, I sometimes think I miss the acuity of grief when my Dad first died. When I look back, somehow the intensity and presence of the grief made it seem like he was still present somehow. It was also so ferocious that I had to pay attention to it. There was so much clarity about what was important.

And it is still important. That grief is still there, and still present.

I believe you don’t get over grief. I believe you come to know what to expect from it, you learn to live with it. You learn that after two decades you can still be surprised by it, sometimes even overcome. But you never get over it. I have a heart and head full of conversations suspended in the ether of the world that was and the world that is. I have learned that special can be distilled down to a word, a gesture, a joke, a moment just like every other, distinguished only by the fact that it is gone and will never happen again. The passage of time transforms the ordinary to the extraordinary. Sometimes we can only know something is special because it is gone.

The most challenging part of all the incessant muchness that is that there seem to be a lot more times where things are just not okay. It can abrade the time when things are okay enough.

I hope that things are okay enough and, if you are grieving, I hope you find comfort and comfort finds its way to you.

Today’s invitation is simple: try to know and name what is special in your life. Make a list, do an inventory, compile a collage, doodle a drawing, whatever. However you capture it, capture it. Take a moment to ponder, and if you are so inclined, share the good news…

Tell the people, pets, places, practices (or whatever appears on your list that doesn’t begin with the letter “p”) that they are special.

Henry J. Lambin, photographer and date unknown. From collection of the author.

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Jeanne M. Lambin
Nostalgia Monkey

I help people imagine, create, and live better stories for themselves, their communities, and the world.