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The shelves of and rooms at my parents’ home that once were the childhood bedrooms of mine and my brother’s are filled with numerous items that may otherwise appear to be junk or discardable items to the unknowing observer.
In these treasure troves are a significant number of items from the very few vacations we took as children. To us, the only annual vacations were weeklong trips to our grandmother’s home (attached to the store of which I mentioned a few times previously in my writing). On these annual trips, we each would have one week alone with our grandmother and on several other occasions we would go together. On these trips to Gram’s and the few vacations we took as a family to places like Virginia Beach, Erie, Pennsylvania, Delaware (to see family friends), or Williamsburg, Virginia, one of our favorite things to do was to end the trip with a trip to a souvenir shop. In the case of going to Gram’s this was often the local mall or downtown to the large now defunct department store where she would purchase school clothes and one toy.
I recently stood in my old bedroom and saw the dusty old squirrel made of tiny seashells that I was ecstatic to find in a store at Virginia Beach. I then saw boxes of baseball, football, and other sports cards in my brother’s room. Scattered among his once valued boxes, were some of the rockets he made when he was part of the rocket club in Air Force Junior ROTC in high school and model airplanes and model cars that he spent hours building on the dining room table.
Je me suis souvenu.
Mi sono ricordato.
While my French is poor at best these days, what I do recall from being a French & Italian major (for a measly year) long ago in college is that souvenir in French is the verb that means “to remember.”
As silly and selfish as I have felt in the past about my childhood materialism and desire to acquire or gain “souvenirs,” standing in those rooms, I was grateful for these memories I had long forgotten. These items, souvenirs if you will, did help me to remember.
Nostalgia, as a psychological concept, includes both looking backwards and looking forwards and includes positive and negative emotions related to irretrievable loss. Once considered problematic as it was considered to be “living in the past,” nostalgia has been researched and reconstructed as a complex construct with subconstructs or ideas.
One such idea is the concept of anticipated nostalgia. Specifically, anticipated nostalgia can be described as a sort of mental time travel in which we can anticipate feeling nostalgic for the past based on planned future events (Cheung, 2023). For example, I can imagine that in certain future holidays, travels, or situations that I may very much wish for, long for, and desire to share memories or events with my deceased brother. As a result, I will likely experience great joy in recalling those memories (if I can) while also feeling extreme sadness.
Research has also shown that nostalgia can increase meaning in lonely people (Abeyta & Juhl, 2022).
So, what does this mean and how does it relate to sibling loss?
Well, as you may be aware by now, sibling loss can feel extremely lonely- especially as it is disenfranchised (or not understood or acknowledged) by many others. It may be particularly helpful to allow yourself to reminisce, be nostalgic, and just be present with your thoughts, feelings, and memories when you feel lonely. You may just find that your meaning in life is restored, or you may find new meaning and purpose.
As a preview, I will be writing a lot more on meaning and purpose next week as this coming week I will be returning to the very retreat and location in which The Broken Pack ™ was developed based on my very specific, personal purpose and derived out of my own loneliness, deep loss, and eternal love for my brother, Tony.
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Abeyta, A. A., & Juhl, J. (2022). Nostalgia restores meaning in life for lonely people. Emotion. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0001190
Cheung, W.-Y. (2023). Anticipated nostalgia. Current Opinion in Psychology, 49, Article 101521. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2022.101521