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  • Writer's pictureTracy Bottiglieri

Becoming the Memory Keeper

In my new role as a widow, I also assumed many new responsibilities. I am transitioning into these duties from my Comfort Zone of "Joint Decision-Making" with my husband, so it is a whole new experience to decide everything on my own. While at times the many decisions can feel overwhelming, most times I have been able to handle them with confidence. I am fortunate to have love and support (and advice!) from many people in my life. I also know that many people have never had the luxury of shared accountability with their life decisions, and I am fortunate to have had an amazing partner for 30 years. From watching him, I learned how to rationally and sensibly choose what I thought was the best option. I like to think that I taught him how to move forward once making the decision; no ruminating on whether the choice was the perfect one. Simply knowing it was the best choice at the time and moving on. We were a good team.

My New Roles

(to be read in a "Matter of Fact" tone, not a "Woe is me!" tone)

I am a Single Parent

  • My boys do not have the benefit of getting advice any more from their logical, loving, decisive father.

  • Likewise, I do not have the luxury of "bouncing ideas" off of my husband on how to best deal with a parenting issue. Luckily both of our sons are mature, young men who can make many of their own life decisions. But it is still an adjustment. A change. And change can be challenging.

  • I am responsible to remember to do everything on time; to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, eg. insurance renewals, car maintenance, tuition payments, school forms, dental appointments, and so on. I don't have my partner to remind me or to prompt me to remember to do something that is important.

I am the Family CFO

  • All financial decisions go through me and are made by me.

  • I am responsible to pay all bills, decide what home improvements are needed, figure out when I can afford to do what needs to be done, and work with my financial adviser to determine my short-term and long-term financial goals.

  • I have to decide on all purchases (big-ticket and small) on my own.

  • No one questions my purchases anymore, and for those that know me well, they might be concerned about that. (don't worry!)

  • The Buck Stops Here.

I am the Future Maker

  • I am the only one who determines what the future holds for me.

  • While I have had some well-intentioned friends mistakenly think that having the freedom to do whatever I want is a positive aspect, that is the farthest thing from the truth. I would gladly make compromises to have the future I thought I was going to have with my husband. "A wide-open future filled with opportunities" is not the way I see it. Rather, it is a future that I didn't plan for, nor did I hope to have. But it is the one I was given, so I am trying to see a positive road ahead and making attitude adjustments as needed. I have made plenty of little cranks to my attitude widget lately. Plenty more to come, I'm guessing.

I am the Memory Keeper

When Joe passed away, I was not only overwhelmed with grief, I was overwhelmed with responsibility. One responsibility I had never considered feeling was that of a Memory Keeper. I wanted to ensure that our children remembered everything about their father and possibly even discovered things about him that they hadn't known to ask! I was so concerned that I would forget something important to share with them. A story that meant a lot in their father's earlier years, maybe. Or a life lesson that could use some additional reinforcing. I wanted them to have somewhere they could go to reference these memories. Something that they could share with future friends, significant others, and possibly children. Joe's and my grandchildren. And so on into the future generations. I wanted Joe's legacy to live on indefinitely. And my own memory was not capable of doing that.

To accomplish my goal, I decided to create A Book Of Remembrance. Only one month after his death, I set a deadline for Father's Day to present the books as a surprise to our sons. That would give me about 9 weeks to collect photos, stories, etc. and have the book made. I am certain some friends and family members thought I was crazy. But I was a new widow, and no one was going to tell me that. 🥰 Other people simply thought that it was a way for me to keep my mind occupied. And it was, but that was not my only motivation. I understood that I had a new important role in our family. I was now the Memory Keeper.

Following is my advice to anyone who might like to create a Memorial Book:

Reach out to ALL family members and friends:

  • Request photos of your loved one.

    • You are going to want photos of all types, including the loved one and family/friends/doing certain activities, traveling, graduating, etc.

    • Try to get photos from all stages of your loved ones' life.

    • Request the photos in png or jpeg formats.

  • Request stories of your loved one.

    • You might want to request all stories be sent as Word documents or Google Docs, as opposed to pdf, so that you can make edits if needed.

  • Give everyone a specific deadline for submitting the photos and stories.

    • Make the deadline at least 3 weeks before you need to submit the finished product for binding services.

    • Tip: Let everyone know what the objective is to create a memory book. Everyone I asked was very motivated to get the photos and stories to me on a timely basis because they knew it was to create a surprise for our sons on Father's Day.

While you are waiting for the photos and stories to come in from your request, you can be doing the following:

Work on creating a Family Tree

  • This was one of my favorite parts of the finished book.

  • The Family Tree includes old photos of my husband's grandparents.

  • My mother-in-law was able to identify everyone for me, so future generations will have a photo and name to know their ancestors a little better.

Locate photos of your own to share.

Make digital copies of the paper and the physical items you want to include in the book:

  • Memorial or Funeral Service booklet(s)

  • Copies of eulogies or speeches that were given during your loved one's service(s)

  • Copy of the obituary or obituaries and tributes

  • Copies of special tributes made in honor of your loved one, for instance, my husband's law firm dedicated a conference room in his memory. I have photos of the commemorative plaque and from the dedication ceremony that I added to his Remembrance Book.

  • A special poem, song lyrics, quotes, or other meaningful sentiments that you want to include

  • Photos of important physical items of your loved one, like race medals, instruments, cars, childhood homes, first purchased home, or other meaningful things that illustrate a passion or past of your loved one

Determine which company you want to use to create the book:

  • NOTE: I chose Mixbook for my husband's Remembrance Book because:

    • I could make the book as many pages as I wanted;

    • the quality of the binding and material was rated highly;

    • they offered a lot of page designs and add-ons to customize the book.

Create your book!

  • Section/Page Ideas:

    • Family Tree starting with your loved one and going back as far as the photos you were able to locate will show

    • Loved One's Family Photos of them and their siblings, parents

    • Letters and Stories added in chronological order

      • Start with photos and stories from immediate and extended family and childhood friends

      • then move on to college and graduate school/law school friends

      • and finally add those from your loved one's professional life and "later in life" friends

    • Trip Photos with labels

    • Childhood Jobs

    • Activities your loved one enjoyed, such as sports, music, hobbies and so on

    • Special Events such as special birthday celebrations, weddings, anniversaries, births, award ceremonies, and so on

    • Timeline of your Relationship with photos

      • from The Day We Met

      • to Proposal

      • to Wedding

      • to Children

      • to ???

A Book of Remembrance: Stories of My Dad was a true "Passion Project" completed with my love and a commitment to keeping my husband's stories alive for us and future generations. The book was about 140 pages. Substantial. Filled with pictures and stories and letters and quotes and all things relating to my much-loved husband. Make yours the way your heart feels is right and end when the book feels complete. Easy enough.

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