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Creating Shared Memories

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Unpacking Memories that Bind a Family

I’ve never been a fan of packing – it is messy, tedious and tiresome. Marie Kondo may be all the rage now, but moving and sorting items to me has always been a chore. If I had to travel, packing would always be left to the eleventh hour.

My packing mantra: to tidy is to throw. As the saying goes, nothing is irreplaceable. Naturally, it was an immense challenge when my parents recently enlisted my help to pack up our old family home. The flat was up for collective sale, and it was time for my parents to move to a smaller 3-room apartment.

But the move was not without reluctance. Even before the collective sale, I had been lobbying my parents to sell the old flat. It had made every sense – the estate was old, the block run down, the furnishings increasingly worn-out – yet my parents loved the flat for the “soul” within the four walls, sometimes to my bewilderment.

It was only during my last few trips back to our old house, in the midst of much-dreaded packing, when I slowly started to appreciate the “soul” my parents were referring to, and what truly made the house a home.

That old bamboo rocking chair that has stood in a corner for the past thirty-odd years was the “epicentre” of activity in the house. It was where my late grandmother always sat, sometimes with me or one of my lighter siblings in her laps, and together we watched TV nightly after dinner. Sundays were family days, and we always gathered around granny’s chair to indulge in her signature dishes, or listen to her enchanting stories. After she passed away, we sometimes still surrounded the chair to reminisce about moments spent with her. She was like the dowager to my parents, but ever-loving granny to her grandchildren, and always said: “It’s the role of children to delight, and be delighted.”

That was an era before mobile phones and tablets stole our attention. These activities were like rituals of connection which brought us together and deeply imbued in me the importance of family. Our family shared in one another’s delights, and lent support to whoever needed it.

Delegating roles and responsibilities was also an important part of family life. I remember my parents sitting down to discuss the distribution of tasks. Dad was the sole breadwinner while Mum was the matriarch who oversaw the household. Children were not left out – Mum would delegate different roles to my siblings and I, giving us a stake in the household.

I also remember a spot along the wall where we hung a board. My parents had the habit of sticking notes on the board, and a corner was dedicated to writing down Family Goals, such as dad getting a promotion or the kids achieving good results in school. We supported one another in trying to achieve these goals, and when someone succeeded, the family would celebrate with a special day out together. It was a rather peculiar family tradition, but something the kids enjoyed thoroughly. I later found out that Mum and Dad had also set their goals as a couple – that gave them a target to work towards together.

It then dawned on me that the rocking chair and goal board were probably what my parents were referring to as the “soul” of the house. These were precious shared memories that we held together as a family. Along with photo portraits hung on the wall, these tell stories of people who have lived in and visited this home, and the many connections forged over time. These memories will not be demolished together with the house. They will be held onto and retold by generations to come.

This time, contrary to my long-held belief, I realize there are things which are in fact irreplaceable –  shared meanings with my family which are deeply connected to our pasts. As renowned American psychologist John Gottman suggests, shared meanings create a spiritual dimension rich with symbols and rituals, and further solidifies a stable and happy relationship. Now that I have a family of my own, I strive to forge a deeper sense of shared meaning with my wife and newborn child, as we continue to build our own stories, beliefs and family culture in the years ahead.

Written by: Lin Feng, Social Worker