Which memories will we carry to the grave?

by | Nov 29, 2021 | Faith, Family, Writing and Reading | 6 comments |

My father is the three-year-old boy, looking to his right.

My father’s memories

I clicked on the sound file and heard my dear father’s early 1990’s, post-stroke voice, recounting memories from his childhood. He had dictated a letter to my older sister for his secretary to transcribe; our younger sister recently converted the file into a digital format. In the letter, my father told the story of his father’s accident in 1928. My grandfather’s right foot got caught in the threshing machine’s beater, resulting in the loss of his foot and eventually the lower part of his leg. My father remembered the terrible sight of blood coming out of the thresher and following the trail of blood as his father was carried to the house. 

“I will carry that memory to my grave,” my father said, his post-stroke voice laden with sorrow. 

On that day, my father was five years old, and from that day forward, he and his brothers had to do a man’s work. This picture of my grandfather and the first four of his ten children was taken two years prior to his accident.

How young, how young.

Our memories

My friend Lisa Cooper Ellison had offered to review my session proposal, Becoming a Writer in the Third Chapter of Life, for next year’s HippoCamp. Her email after reading the third iteration: “This is much clearer and more focused. Bravo! I have one minor suggestion in the storytelling for your session description. Get to your pain points sooner.” And so, I did—here is the final session description.

The empty-nest, post-career, third-stage-of-life offers opportunities to revisit youthful enthusiasms and explore new curiosities. But giving up our former identities can be unsettling, and being a novice after a successful career can be humbling. In this session, we’ll define the stages of life, consider how wants and paths-to-purpose change, talk about how to deal with the discomfort of reinvention, and discuss how, free from life’s busyness, we have time and perspective to seek self-knowledge, healing, and meaning. As a veteran third-stager, I’ll share the tools I found helpful for navigating this internal journey, writing meaningful stories, and sharing with others.

Reinvention can be uncomfortable, but it takes real courage to seek peace, to stay in the stories of our early losses, rejections, and inexplicable disruptions. But excavating our memories is one of the jobs of the third stage of life, as mentioned in this post. Bravo to my father for facing his pain points, even in his diminished state.

Shared memories

Yesterday at church, we lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of expectation, the candle of hope. I thought about the memories we share with others and about the post I wrote at this time a year ago, regarding Simon and Garfunkel’s “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” the song about putting an end to war. My father also spoke about being born in 1923 but it might as well have been 1870, since the people he knew still talked about their losses from the Civil War.

Many lives and many limbs lost.

Later, while looping the garland lights around the loft railing here at Vanaprastha, I asked myself: which memories will I carry to my grave, those of sorrow or hope? 

Advent’s preparation has begun. 


  1. Sarah Myers

    The photograph is priceless!

    • Carole Duff

      Yes, old photographs wonderful reminders of the scope of our lives.

  2. vonettayoung

    Great photo and great session description! I hope to make it to HippoCamp one of these days!

    • Carole Duff

      HippoCamp is a friendly, supportive community of creative nonfiction writers. Attendees range from novice to those among the most accomplished in the field, yet there is no distinction between “haves” and “have nots.” And you don’t want to miss the mash potato martinis!

  3. bigskybuckeye

    Carole, your discussion is a welcome read. Life moves through its seasons, usually much too quickly. Only in our later years, do we begin to treasure them even more.

    • Carole Duff

      Thank you for your comment, Richard. This time of life is a blessing, isn’t it?


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