Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; Isaiah 49:15-16
There are things about Hans I will never forget for as long as the Lord grants me a sound mind. The day of his birth, the day of his death, and the many precious days in between. But like scripture memorization or math facts, if we do not rehearse and review what we have embedded in our mind, it tends to fade, and then is forgotten. Or is it?
The brain is amazing. I have heard of elderly people whose minds have been ravaged by dementia to the point of not recognizing loved ones, yet, if you sing them a song they learned seventy years ago, they will sing it right along with you. The memories, though tangled and hard to access, are still in there.
When our son with Down syndrome suffered a regression in cognitive function, we were concerned that he might have forgotten everything we had worked so hard to teach him. But, after he recovered, we discovered, to our joy, that most everything he had learned was retained. It took work, but in a short time things learned years ago were brought back up where he could use them when he needed them. It was all still in there.
The fading memories of the details of life with my boy is a reality I do not like. At first, I was panicky about forgetting things. Grasping in desperation, I tried to hold on to all the memories at once. In my mind, I would scramble to stuff all that was Hans’ life into a virtual Rubbermaid™ container, so I could be sure of access day or night, always and forever. (My actual Rubbermaid™ container is under our bed). I would crawl through our photo albums, inspecting the backgrounds of our old family pictures, mining for clues as to what transpired that day.
Eventually, I stopped my daily examinations of the photo albums because I found that I was beginning to carry memories of photographs instead of real memories of actual events – the pictures were actually making me forget. So now I prefer to look out and around and remember things that happened in certain spots in our home or around town. I use the photos as a supplement to memory and not as a substitute.
But it’s not just some of the smaller details of Hans’ life that I am forgetting – I am forgetting many details of all our lives. That’s just normal. We cannot avoid forgetting the minutiae of daily life that make up the cumulative character of our families’ histories. Each day, each hour we have together, is packed with the small moments that make up life: a man-sized fistful of flowers, a boy-sized Lincoln Log™ fort, the milky smile of a nursing babe.
It is the small memories that I treasure most and they are the ones that often get forgotten first – mostly because there are so many of them. It is customary to snap pictures at major events, but some of my favorite photos were taken on ordinary days when we were doing ordinary life. I treasure pictures that were taken when no one was paying attention or looking at the camera. Those candid shots often have evidence strewn about that tell of the goings on for that day.
It is not possible for me to remember everything about every day that Hans was with us. Many of the memories were forgotten years before he left. Perhaps I should have been more meticulous about recording everything. It would be nice to have a larger stash of memories.
No, much as we would like to, we cannot remember everything. Before photography, videos, answering machines, tape recordings, cell phones, cloud storage, and scrap-booking, one might have only a lock of hair or a portrait of their departed. One picture on the wall or in a locket – that’s it. That and what was recorded in the heart. Maybe it was easier that way. Maybe we are supposed to forget.
But, even if I do “forget” some things (can a mother truly ‘forget’?) God does not. I believe He has all the memories stored up for me and will bring them to my recall as needed for the rest of my life. I fully expect Him to sprinkle my thoughts with precious memories, one by one, as gifts to me as I walk this road without my Hans. Memories of smiles and laughter; of the crash of Legos™ on the floor; of the quiet of his voice in the evening; of the slow sparkle of his eyes.
Every now and again, the Lord brings something to my memory that I had not thought about in years. He gifts me with a “forgotten” memory of our son and it is such a delight, not only because I get to remember, but because I know God gave the memory. That means the precious details of our life that I thought were long forgotten, and the ones I worry might be forgotten, are safe with Him, and I do not need to fear they will be “lost.”
It is over two years now since I have laid eyes on Hans. But, if I turn around – from memory to hope – I see I am more than two years closer to seeing him again. It is a discipline to think about it this way, but I must keep this fact in front of me:
The physical body Hans occupied was a confinement – a snapshot, if you will – of all he truly is. Much as a photograph is just an image, the material physical presence of our son along with his will, emotion, intellect and personality as we experienced him, was just a temporary place for him to be. The real, perfected version, with all his potential fulfilled, is currently, and actually, safe and present with the Lord. And I will see him again. It is just a matter of time.
Hans is not a fading memory; each day brings me closer to him. The photo is not fading, it is being developed. New memories are in our future. And that lovely reality outshines every memory, photo, video or voice recording I now weep over.