The Best Gift You’ll Ever Give: A New Memory

{About a 2-minute read}

I walked through her house and grabbed everything I could fit in my arms. They were just things. Glasses. Scarves. Coffee cups. Pens.

But they were her things.

The book that I’d given my Mom a week before at Christmas, that I left right where it was. Her copy of The Help was resting on her bed. I knew she’d laid it there as she went through her nightly routine that one last time, so I left it undisturbed, so it would be there when she came back for it.

My brain alternated between racing and slogging through quicksand that day, and for a long time to come. On one of its crazy sprints to the future, it had already grasped something that would take the rest of me a long time to fully articulate:

There would be no more new memories.

Even memories as trivial as my Mom getting ready for bed. I guess when you know that you’ll never make new memories with someone, you grasp for straws. You don’t mess with trivial. You leave books exactly where they are. You smell scarves. You cherish pens.

That sounds a little crazy, I know. Of course I knew she wasn’t coming back. I did–and still do–all the things you do to keep the memory of someone close: I went through every picture, every letter, every email, every piece of clothing.

Every single thing.

And of course I sifted through every memory I had. But I’m human–we’re all human, right?–and there are only so many memories and pieces of information our brains can hold on to.

So eventually, you build up something similar to a Greatest Hits collection. Your favorite pictures. The antique pitcher she loved. A voicemail you saved and transferred to iTunes that plays randomly when your music is on shuffle. A piece of her favorite cake on her birthday.

Then one day, you let yourself smile at a few of the best stories–maybe even laugh. And, perhaps unthinkably, life returns to normal. A new normal, but normal. Ish.

But there are never any new memories.


Someone else has a memory that you don’t know about.

Last week, one of my best friends casually handed me a picture of me, my mom, and another good friend making dinner at my apartment about thirteen years ago, on one of my mom’s two visits to San Francisco. “I found this and I knew you’d want it,” he said.

Something new. A picture I’d never seen.


I went home and stared at this picture for a long time. My mind was racing again, remembering details of her trip that I’d forgotten–because I’m human and can only hold on to so much for so long. But his picture reminded me.

We’d made barbecued ribs. A good meal for a big group of people, she’d said. I’d invited over some friends so they could meet my mom. My friend D in the kitchen (and in the original version of the picture) opening wine. My mom, holding the ribs, me getting ready to put them on a platter. Sitting around drinking wine after dinner, talking with my Mom and some of my best friends about the state of life in San Francisco in 2002. No, I’m not dating anyone. Yep, we’re all unemployed at the same time–the whole city is laid off, Mom–but we’ll be okay; we’re having fun. Yes, S is still gay, so no, the two of us are never getting married. No, I’m not moving home. San Francisco is home.

It’s the kind of nothing picture you’d normally never put in a frame, but I want to frame it anyway, because right now, it’s everything.

It’s new.

My mom + my best friends. Days gone by that I can never get back, before parents died, before friends died, when we still had roommates, before people moved away, had babies, got married, and got too busy to sit around and eat barbecued ribs on a random Tuesday that we didn’t have to calendar five weeks in advance.

It’s so much it’s almost too much, this picture, but in the best way. It’s a slice of what was. I can’t frame it because then it will be part of the Greatest Hits collection, and I’m not ready for this picture to be there just yet.

So it’s on my kitchen counter. I don’t even pick it up–it’s like I’m trying to be cool with this memory. I just glance at it when I walk by. Breezy. As if I’ll have the chance to make a million more of these memories and pictures.

The best gift you can give someone is a new memory. Please trust me on this.

If not a picture, then a story. And if you don’t have your own story, ask them to tell you one. It works wonders on getting someone to share what they’ve been carrying around inside their head with the outside world. Sometimes it even jiggles loose a few new memories, too.

The best gift you can ever give. It’s so easy.

Thanks for the picture, S.