Summer traditions were big in my extended family. We were fortunate to share a lake cottage – a place where we gathered with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, brought friends and enjoyed everything to do with lake life. We stayed up late, swam, learned to water ski, sailed, spent hours on the dock, looked for shells and turtles along the shoreline. Every evening we gathered around a big rectangular table to share a meal of fresh produce and grilled meats. Children fell asleep in their dinner plates. Adults laughed and told stories and late into the night played bridge. The air was rich with memories, names of people past and present, gossip and laughter.
Now, years later, the lake cottage is gone and so are many family members. Our surviving family tribe is small and scattered to the wind. Those childhood cousins are all grown, raising children of their own in states across the country. We are rarely all together. The long summer days of childhood and a big family are only recalled across time and space.
What we remember are snapshots of that time: our grandfather’s love of firecrackers; grandmother’s painting projects; Aunt Carolyn’s recipe for hand-crank ice cream; dad’s sailing lessons, mom’s cigarette and Tab; Lisa’s summer visits from Seattle. Memories are wistful, nostalgic and sometimes filled with longing. Sometimes it seems long ago and other times, so recent that upon thinking of it, your nose fills with the scent of lake water.
Making meaning and creating new traditions is a way to connect both the past and present. Our senses are one of the most powerful ways to recollect; bringing alive the taste of hand crank ice cream, peaches from a road side stand, walking barefoot along a lake shore, the smell of citronella candles. With the summer season in full swing, explore the tactile experiences of your own summer memories.
Is there a place your family visited, camped, shared vacation time together every summer? What made that time and place distinctive? Were there foods you always prepared? Things you always did no matter the weather? Games played, stories told, puzzles worked or other things that were part of those lazy summer traditions? Reflect on your sweetest memories and choose from among them something you might do this summer to plug in and reconnect with absent loved ones through action, sense or a visit to long-ago cherished places.
At the same time, you may use this season as an opportunity to create new traditions. You can weave together some of the familiar activities with new ones. Select a new place to visit. Find a fruit farm and pick your own strawberries. Make a habit of going to the farmer’s market every Saturday and then trying new recipes. You may try recipes from your grandmother’s cookbook; find the one’s with her handwritten notes. Take up the challenge to blend together new and old traditions. Talk with your family about what might be most meaningful from the past as well as what might be comforting to experiment with now. Use this season as a time explore ways to stay connected with those who have died and build new memories with those who remain.
Deb Brandt (formerly Buehler) is a certified funeral celebrant, certified creative grief practitioner and professional writer. She works virtually and in-person with individuals and families as they tell their stories of grief and loss. Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. You can learn more about Deb and her services at www.growingbeyondgrief.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org