There’s an album in my mind filled with snapshots of people I’ve loved who are no longer on this earth. I browse though it at random to relive experiences, hugs, and the warmth, that those loved ones have imparted. Sometimes I think, “It’s not time for those memories. Put them away.” Yet, the album comes out, because a greater sense tells me that a life must be appreciated, examined and remembered.

My album of memories, with laughing faces, tender hands, and sometimes even stern words, doesn’t contain many inhabitants. Thankfully, those dear to me, who have died, remain very few. However, for one life to leave, though inevitable, just seems too great a loss at times. As the years progress, more photos will be added. Dreaded emails and phone calls will come: “Uncle So and So has died,” or “Aunt So and So has passed on.” The album will come out, compartmentalized sadness mingled with joy.

I opened the album today, because I woke up to an email of my uncle’s death. I didn’t experience shock, just sadness and guilt. There’s always a side parcel of guilt when someone I love passes, like “Why wasn’t I a more attentive, loving so and so?” All the snapshots came flitting out, because one memory leads to another:

Aunt Lena serving me oxtail in a darkened kitchen in Crofts Hill, because  a woman needs meat on her bones, and “gyal yuh nuh have none.” 2) Uncle Wes allowing me to jump on his bed with him lying on it, while we watched a Michael Jackson ABC special. Him laughing and telling me that I’m crazy and crazy forever being an affirmation. (To think someone could be so fond of me.) 3) Uncle Wes lending me his favorite flannel shirt. I tried cigarettes for the first time that night, with the group I was with, and when I returned it, though it reeked, he didn’t reprimand me. 4) Driving with Uncle Harry, winding up Clarendon’s country roads, on the way to the house in Croft’s Hill. Aunt Lena’s house. He stopping to speak to every farmer, woman, and child on the way. Everyone on the road knew Mas Harry. 5) Uncle Wes moving in with us, cooking huge Jamaican meals for us every night, and really treating me like a child, though I felt at 15 that I was so grown up. He epitomized the word “care.”

I close the album, but the memories have already fallen all around me. Gone, but never forgotten.

Just this week, I was speaking to a friend about her desperate desire to have a child sooner rather than later. She feels time is slipping away, and as we get older chances or possibilities are diminishing. Opening my album has made it clear to me that parenting isn’t about giving birth. Who cares about matching DNA and all the biological stuff? Being a mother (or father) is possible in so many ways. To reiterate: a child doesn’t have to come out of your body to be yours. To her, I say, “Don’t worry. Worry’s not going to change anything. If you want to love a child unconditionally, do just that. They’ll love you back the same.”