Making Peace with May Memories

She stared back at me from timid eyes, almost sorrowful, yet the occasion I knew well was celebratory. Somewhere in the fathomless depths of her brown eyes I sensed rather than saw hopelessness despite her mere eight years. While this month always holds conflicting memories, making peace with May memories this year seems even harder.

At times, trips down memory lane are as precarious and potentially hazardous as navigating a mine field.

One afternoon in the midst of working on a new poem, which started out as a whimsical peek at some pink petals, a vivid personal memory stepped into my consciousness.

As if a long-buried truth became dislodged by the fluttering pink petals encountered on a spring walk. For the vision was the little girl described in the first paragraph, standing under a pink canopy of dogwood blossoms.

Captured on the day of my First Holy Communion, in May of 1966, I stood adorned in my white dress and veil, hands folded in front of me. Taken in nearby Audubon Park, the very same spot where my parents were photographed after their wedding.

Overcome with the vision, I did something I never do, opened a box of childhood photos to find that picture and there it was, exactly as it stood imprinted in my memory.

pink petals on the ground around a tree trunk

They say you can never go home again, and in one photo, a flood of past pain like all those pretty pink petals floating from the trees above, came tumbling into my heart.

The fact is, I left my childhood home forty-three years ago and never once looked back. Which included never looking at childhood photos, even after my mother’s death last year.

Despite well-meaning intentions of my brother’s wife in boxing all of the photos found in my mother’s apartment for me, I never once took the time to look at them.

Until now.

And every part of me wanted to run the other way. But a whispered invitation beckoned me to make peace with painful May memories.

Though the memory of my First Holy Communion from a May long ago was not a perennial May memory, it accentuated the yearly visitors. Not a May 1st passes without remembering my father on what this year would have been his 87th birthday had he not died at age forty-nine.

May Day pole against a blue sky

Never sharing any childhood memories, my father always shared his favorite memories of May Day celebrations, which held a special place in his heart. Perhaps the sad little boy who would later succumb to alcoholism, compulsive gambling and a host of other vices meant to numb a painful past, felt those May Day celebrations were for him in some way.

May quickly advances to my parents’ wedding anniversary on May 4th, which in 2024 had they both survived, would be their 67th wedding anniversary.

Then May memories melt into my mother’s birthday on May 10th, which like my father, would have been her 87th birthday had she not gone on to glory last year. Having written a poem about her life on her 70th birthday, I now read it to her through tears.

Unlike my father, my mother shared a great deal about her childhood, which rarely held anything but sorrow and abuse, often covering her birthday with an unsettled gloom.

Not to mention Mother’s Day, which often coincided with my mother’s birthday, as if that brought enough pain, I have my own sorrowful motherhood story to hold on that day.

black and white photo of white rose on black background

All of which filled me with more than trepidation when considering accepting the invitation to finally make peace with painful May memories.

In my most recent therapy session, my counselor suggested my perennial May memories had become a familiar pain much like a headache. Though unpleasant, they are a part of life, and we tolerate them now and then when they come.

Though seeing her point, I still had no intention of making complete peace with a painful past as vivid in May as the glorious blooms in my garden.

Until the visit from my eight-year-old self.

Of all the memories, she came with one from the month of MAY. She came with one which should have been joyous, but because of a harsh incident of abuse, became another May casualty.

lonely bird on bare branch in dismal background

She came in a May memory, but her eyes held the memories of many months. They told the story of rejection, loneliness, abuse, and an eerie hopelessness, all in the eyes of eight years of life.

But they held so much more than those things. For they did more than tell a truth, they held the key to unraveling a bigger truth, one that would finally set me free. One which would make peace with all of the May memories.

Making peace with painful past memories is not about rewriting the past, or even denying the truth of past pain, it is about viewing it through eyes of compassion and mutual suffering.

The fathomless brown eyes not only spoke their own pain, but they reflected the pain of two hurting and broken people, unable to break free from their own painful pasts.

Though incapable of understanding with my immature child mind, I now see many of the painful incidents buried in my psyche, were simply the re-enactments of the very things both my parents experienced as children.

close up pink dogwood blossoms

While understanding never excuses wrong behavior, it binds up the wounds which before brought only paralyzing pain.

As an adult acknowledging my own flawed and sinful behavior, brings new compassion coupled with the fellowship of the broken in suffering. As a redeemed adult, I see God’s healing hand at work through the endless thread of forgiveness woven through my story.

Though the work of healing encompasses years and will not find completion until eternity, making peace with painful May memories becomes an extension of God’s redemptive work in my life.

Perhaps, like Jesus, the scars we carry into eternity will not only tell a story of pain once experienced, but the story of a redemptive Love which made every wounded place new again.

For my parents, what simply could not find healing on this earth, has now been made whole in the Presence of Christ. And when one day we meet again, the only emotion we will know will be Joy as we embrace all which God worked together for our good and His glory.

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