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The memories that make us

The memories that make us

by Moyra Mackie on August 15, 2015

I’ve been reflecting on the power birthdays and anniversaries have to provoke powerful memories and emotions.

This Sunday it’s my best friend’s sixtieth birthday.

We met in the Customer Service department of a local manufacturing company.

We were both starting out

I was searching for my first graduate job, whilst Larraine considered she was in her “first proper job” having left school at 16 to have her son.  I had just returned from a gap year travelling through Africa, whilst she had never strayed too far from her home town in Hertfordshire.

I was 22 and Larraine was 33.

Yet there didn’t seem to be an age gap 

It wasn’t that I was particularly wise, or she particularly young at heart; our differences either enriched our relationship or seemed insignificant.  What I notice looking back is how present we were; we accepted each other how we were, with the past and future being a lot less important than the connection we were forming in the present.

Larraine had “no side” – she just wasn’t the kind to bitch and moan or the kind to hold grudges.

Being with someone so forgiving was good for me

Larraine’s kindness hid a toughness and determination.  I remember her telling me how determined she was to be the best mother she could be because, “at sixteen everyone was expecting me to fail.”  Ditto her determination with her marriage. Her two children were indeed kind, lively and loving, although her marriage was more volatile.

Larraine frequently said that she lived her life backwards

When she was in her teens she was a responsible stay at home mum and in her thirties she started work and discovered a social life.  In the decade after I met her she found the courage to leave her husband and carve out a career for herself.  She formed new relationships, and started travelling, just as I settled down and had my son.

And still the differences didn’t matter

The one thing that began to count was that like a lot of sunny people, Larraine wrestled with depression.  She also suffered from debilitating headaches which could keep her in bed for days.  Sometimes I wondered if the two were linked.

She was the only one of my friends who came to visit me when I lived in North Carolina in the nineties – providing some incredibly happy memories of renting a beach house in the Outer Banks and spending hours walking along the beach or sitting on the porch, all the time talking and laughing.

When my son turned three it was Larraine that helped me – now eight months pregnant – hold a party for a dozen hyperactive kids.  When everyone left we ate what was left of the Thomas the Tank Engine cake and talked about what it would be like when my second son was born.  She had just become a grandmother and we talked about how great it would be for them to play together.

It was a lovely sunny spring day and I had been given four birch saplings by a neighbour.  I gave one to Larraine and we parted after we had crammed a birch sapling into her car.  She drove away with the branches sticking out of the window, sounding her horn and shouting goodbye.

It was the last time I saw her

On the 19th April 1999 Larraine died, a few days after suffering a huge brain haemorrhage.

There aren’t many weeks when I don’t think of her and wish she was here.  I’ve unexpectedly written poetry about these memories and realised the significance of her relationship as I delved into my past in my dissertation for my MSc.

In my head Larraine is still 44, not 60

I guess in my head I’m not nearly 50 either.

A client told me the other day that she thinks my job is to “make rooms of strangers into friends” and I certainly make connections and friends easily.  But best friends don’t come along too often.

As I haven’t written a blog post for a while I wondered if this was somehow too personal a topic, somehow not worthy of sharing. Then when I visited her grave I realised I had no sense of her there.  I carried my sense of her with me; in my memories.

I guess we all carry those losses with us – people we have cared for who have passed away or who are no longer in our lives.  The experiences we have with them shape us, but so do our memories of them.

For me, the size of the felt loss seems to signify the impact they have on us.

We are the choices we make

And one of those choices is who we decide to spend our time with and how we choose to honour the memories we create with those people.  Birthdays and anniversaries seem to be ways we find to help us recall those memories and make meaning of our present.

I realised that I was waiting for my “big birthday” to somehow have permission to celebrate. Standing by that granite slab with Larraine’s name in gold lettering made me realise that I did not have to wait for a landmark to celebrate anything.

So next Sunday I’ll have a rather impromptu 49th birthday party to connect with those people in my present who I care about. And start making more new memories.

Image: Larraine & Ethan Outer Banks, NC, 1997

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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