What I Want You to Know About Faded Memories

Your memories of your mom are fading, as much as we both fight to keep them alive. More and more when I ask you if you remember the way she would do something or something she liked to say, the answer is, “No.”

“Do you remember how she would sing, ‘All of the time, all of the time, all of the time, all of the time’?”


“She liked to watch design and cooking shows. Do you remember that?”


At times I feel you struggling to keep the memories you do have, as if you are trying to lock them steady in your mind and in your heart, somewhere beyond forgetting.

“Mom used to always get nachos from this place, right?”

“Mom’s favorite colors were blue and green, right?” 

“Mom was the best cook.”

I smile at this last one, knowing how picky of an eater you were and how much that would drive your mom crazy.

“She was a great cook,” I say. “What was your favorite thing that she would make?” 

“Paw Patrol Mac ‘N Cheese.” 

“Ah, yes, one of her specialties. How about when I make it for you? Is it as good?” 

“Almost as good,” you answer. From you, this is a big compliment, which I gladly accept.

You and I just returned from a trip to Southern California. Your mom and I had planned to take you on a similar trip last year during your spring break, but then the pandemic hit and the trip was postponed. At the time, we just figured we’d do it once the pandemic had passed and life had returned to normal.


“Normal” being something of a laughable condition for the two of us, I went ahead and booked the trip anyway as a birthday present to you. Legoland and Disneyland, as well as a visit to see your mom’s sister and her family.

You were on Cloud Nine the whole week. Raising your arms and laughing on roller coasters. Building pyramids and castles at the Legoland Hotel. Going down a flume and laughing at how soaked we both got. Driving a bumper car by yourself as I stood by and filmed it all. Holding my hand as we walked from ride to ride. Making a new friend and flying the Millennium Falcon together with him. Waving at costumed characters. Riding on my shoulders when your feet grew tired. Memories I hope we will both be able to hold onto for a while.

Your mom wasn’t there, but she was never far from our minds.

Several times, you told me, “The only thing that would make this trip better is if Mommy was here.”

You pointed out the Lego creation of a costumed rat in our hotel room. “Mommy would not like this,” you observed.

We speculated which rides she would have gone on, or what she would have ordered for lunch.

I watched moms putting sunscreens on their kids and looked over at your reddening face. I thought how nice it was to have a partner to catch the things I so often neglected.

I saw people acting cool or wearing funny shirts and wished I could hear her commentary. I imagined her asking me, “Would you still love me if I got a tattoo sleeve of Disney princesses like that woman?”

As great as the trip was, I worry that these new memories you are forming might crowd out some of the ones of your mom that are still there, hanging by the smallest of threads.

I worry so much about your memories fading that I forget about my own. 

Your mom’s parents used to live in Oceanside, a few miles from Legoland, in the house where your mom grew up. When your mom and I were young and falling in love, we would come down to stay with them some weekends. Your mom would drive me around to her favorite beaches, restaurants, and stores. She would tell me stories about growing up close to the ocean; having picnics with her parents after church as the waves rolled in; bonfires there with friends on the weekend.

I decided to drive by the old house to show it to you. It made me realize how much I had forgotten. I could not remember, for instance, whether their house was the second or third house from the corner. I had also forgotten about the family fun center down the road where her sister used to work, where we went on a date one night to play mini golf. I had forgotten how your mom seemed more herself when the ocean was just a stone’s throw away. I had forgotten the way you can just breathe in the humid coastal air down there and feel like a different person: like you need to put on flip flops, throw the board on your old VW van, and catch a few waves, even if you have never surfed a day in your life and don’t own a van.

These were only the things I remembered. Who knows how much I have truly forgotten?

I tried to think of where else I should take you, places where your mom’s presence might still linger. I couldn’t think of many. I could remember places where we parked near the beach, but I couldn’t remember the names of the streets or the beaches themselves. The memories have all faded, replaced by all the things that have happened since those more carefree days.

On our drive home after our week away, you asked if we could stop at a gas station and get a treat.

“I’m not hungry, I just want something a little sweet,” you said.

It caught me by surprise. This was the exact phrase your mom used to say when she wanted a treat, and I had to think a moment about whether or not I had talked about it with you. I realized I had, months ago. You must have asked for a treat then, too, and I told you how your mom would have phrased it. Even so, the words had started to fade from my own memory, so it was startling to have you remind me of them, verbatim and in a pretty good imitation of your mom.

It occurred to me then that I do not need to worry so much about new memories crowding out old ones. Of course, our memories will fade, there is no stopping that. But when we celebrate life and being together, we help keep your mom’s memory, and all our individual memories of her, alive in our hearts.

The threat, I think, isn’t to have fun, but to get bogged down in perpetual sadness, to smother our memories with the weight of our grief. Keeping them bottled inside as we try to protect them, the memories become stuffy and gray.

When we have fun together, on the other hand, the good memories are out in the open. Sometimes they might float away, true enough. But, more often than not, we breathe them in, and take comfort in the remembering. And when we catch one that we thought we had forgotten, when we feel transported to a different time and a different version of ourselves, it’s a little like breathing in the breeze-blown ocean air for the first time in years.

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