I know of a man and his wife, a little older than us, that had a son who died some time ago in a car crash. Same age as our Hans, same abrupt end. I don’t know these folks personally; they are acquaintances of my husband. I have only seen them from a distance.
I never knew their son at all. To me, this young man who lived and died many years ago is just a shadow of someone else’s past. I do not know his name. I know nothing about him except for the traces of love mixed with sadness he has left on his parent’s aging faces. His family and friends know and remember him but he is only a nameless, faceless heartbreak to me.
And that is the way it will be for us soon. Actually, it already is. Hans is becoming “the son they lost years ago” and nothing more. New people we meet will not have known him. They have no memories of his life, no shared experiences and therefore they do not miss him. But…
…I want so much for them to know him. I want you to know our Hans. Because then you would know why losing him is so devastating. If you only knew him you would be sad too and you would not wonder why I still hurt. It is because you did not know him that you cannot understand. You cannot comprehend the size of the hole in my heart.
If you had known him, you would understand why I sneak his name into conversations. Why I am thrilled when you speak his name in a relaxed and casual way. As if he were somehow currently a part of your life. You would understand my sadness because you would be sad, too.
It bothers me that you never met him. You did not know him. You did not love him. You do not miss him. You do not remember him. It is an astonishing fact that he was not, and never will be, a part of your experience.
But maybe, as I think on that other couple’s son and mourn the fact that I did not know him and cannot remember or miss him, maybe I am remembering their son. Maybe thinking about not knowing who he was, and being sad about that, is a way of remembering him.
Maybe someone out there thinks the same way about our Hans. Maybe today someone will think about him and remember him.
And perhaps, when they do, they will smile.