The importance of happy memories: Joan Brady in a selfie with her siblings, the first photo of just the four of them since childhood.
“It’s my few happy memories that keep me going,” a young woman who had grown up in foster care told me a few months ago.
To be honest, today I’m a little foggy on exactly what her happy memories even were. They weren’t monumental experiences or achievements. They were simply moments in time when she felt happy.
One was about being near the water. Another, a meal eaten at a particular restaurant. And another, a time when she felt like she was being heard. A small arsenal of moments that she could dip into, as needed.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that conversation. I grew up with two loving parents. While no childhood is perfect, I’d say mine was pretty close. What I keep stored away are my few unhappy memories. Images I trot out when I want to wallow in a little self-pity.
But what if I could hang on to just a few good memories. And they had to be enough to keep me moving forward, from making bad choices, even from killing myself. What would they be?
Well there was my nursery school graduation. Every kid had to stand up and perform in front of the group of proud parents. Painfully shy and paralyzed by the very idea, I distinctly remember my mother telling me that she had spoken with my teacher and I would be exempt from this particular torture. This one I’d keep as a reminder that I have a mother who had my back then and continues to now.
There was that beautiful spring day that I walked down the streets of New York City, proud to be a recent college grad and excited to be going on job interviews and looking for an apartment. It would be good to hang on to a reminder to appreciate accomplishments and to embrace the next set of goals with enthusiasm.
There was the time a few years ago that my sister and brothers and I took a selfie. It was the first image of just the four of us since we were kids. There was something about that moment, enjoying each other’s company and recognizing, that no matter what, these people could be counted on. Yup, definitely a memory worth hanging on to.
And maybe, one would be the moment when I recognized how lucky I am to have a treasure trove of happy memories as deep and as long as my life.
Joan Brady is a professional photographer; mentor and advocate for current and former foster children; volunteer with paws4People, Fairfax Families4Kids, and others; and a resident of Great Falls. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org