How do you remember what you’ve lost?

This is something I actually spend a lot of time thinking about.

Working in a cancer center and getting very close to a lot of our patients, I have actually lost a lot of people over the last 4 1/2 years. A few have definitely meant more than others, but I still can remember all of them – well, almost all – if I try hard enough.

But the idea really came center when I saw a post by Heidi, a mentor for the  First Exposures program in San Francisco, on a day when she was remembering her mother.

A picture is a common way to remember someone lost, but Heidi did it differently than most. Not too unexpected once you know she is an artist and a photographer, but it got me to realize that many of us have unique items which actually mean more than just an average photograph.

What Heidi did is she had a slide of her mother. For those of your over 30, you probably remember slides – positive image film which could be put in a projector to have a large image – like a still of a movie. For those of you under 30, look it up. It was and remains an amazing art form.

Heidi’s post on Facebook was simple. She mentioned keeping her mom near her and then she posted a picture of her own hand holding up the slide of her mother to the sky (see below).

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A simple but amazing memorial in the moment to someone she lost, but also evidence of how she chooses, and what she uses, to remember her mother.

I don’t keep a lot of knick-knacks. I used to, but my wife got me out of that, and I’m thankful. The items I keep are that much more meaningful without having their specialness diluted by junk around them.

One of the more unusual items I use to remember someone is a bottle opener.

Yes, for beer bottles. And it’s very good at it.

A short bit of metal with a hooked end (for opening cans of things like pineapple juice), some grooves (for bottles) and a plastic imitation wooden handle.

My grandma Jean was an alcoholic. I don’t think anyone would deny that. But really, that’s not what this reminds me of.

After she became ill with cancer and moved to our home in Vacaville, the rest of us had to clean out her trailer in Hollister. Grandma Jean would give away pretty much anything anyone wanted because she didn’t have a home for very much and she’d rather family or friends have it than anyone else.

My sister and I discovered a traveling bar – a handbag-size aluminum case which had space to hold 2 bottles, a shaker, and cocktail mixing items – including the bottle opener.

For some reason, that stuck in my mind as her. Here she was, an alcoholic yet she was practical about the way to carry her vice and to almost turn it into ritual. Supposedly, she would use the traveling bar on bus or train trips to Reno because why not carry your own rather than paying at the bar? Practical.

Now, there are several odd items which remind me of lost family and friends. I have a dog tag from a dog who died when I was in junior high. I have a light-up globe and a metronome from my dad’s parents. And on and on.

In the end, all of these are just triggers. Ways to be sure I think often of certain people, to keep them with me constantly, and to remind me of how they have made me who I am today.

So, how do you remember what you’ve lost?

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Recently, First Exposures lost a great member of their mentor team – Don Anderson. Read more about Don, his past as an artist and educator, and how he continued to bring light to young minds even after he retired.

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