Below is my journal entry from June 6. We had recently returned to Indonesia from our three-week time in America. While in the states we had three memorial services for Anna–in Richmond, VA; Louisville, KY; and San Mateo, CA. At the end we were exhausted and ready to go back “home”. We thought at the time that we were through the hard part and could get on with making something out of the wreckage that was our family. We were wrong. Very wrong.
Today is day 30. When will I cease to see all things in reference to Anna? Timberley is no longer my wife, but Anna’s mother. Samuel is not our son, but Anna’s brother. As the three of us gather to eat, I do not see the three places set, but only the one that is missing. I suppose the amputee gives more thought to the missing limb than to the other three remaining.
I have decided that the first thing to write is a collection of memories of Anna. I want to do this first because of the fear that her memory will fade. Last night Timberley and I watched a film in which a young girl lost her mother in a car accident. At one point the girl runs away from home and goes to her mother’s grave site. When she is found there she says tearfully, “I am afraid I am going to forget her.” Such was C. S. Lewis’s concern as well.
Why do we have this need to remember the dead? Or, put the other way around, why do we have a fear of forgetting? Perhaps it is from our own fear of the futility of life. “‘Absolute futility,’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is futile.'” “For the fate of people and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals, for everything is futile.” (Eccl. 12:8; 3:19) I have before me the urn which contains my daughter’s ashes. All of her material being is contained in that receptacle. All the water and certain other chemical compounds have been burned out of her and she has literally been reduced to ashes. Is that all there is of life?
Of course, as a Christian, I know the answer to that question is a resounding No. And yet, is this fear of forgetting someone or of forgetting the true character of the person with all their weaknesses and foibles a residue from this fear of the futility of life? Is her soul, in a sense, kept alive by our memories? If there is no legacy, then do we live and die for nothing?
I don’t think that anyone who mourns goes through these questions consciously at the moment of grief. At least, that is my own experience, and I hardly imagine that, in the throes of sorrow, a person could be as calculating as all that. It is only upon reflection on a person’s life and upon examination of our own sorrow that we ask these questions. Rather, in my own experience, in the moment of grief at its deepest the need for remembering comes strongly like a wave washing over me. “Do not forget. Do not forget,” the voice says to us. And as we remember the looks, the voice, the mannerisms of the dead, we begin to fear and to question, “Was that really the way they looked?”
Whatever the cause or source of that fear that is what I am combatting by collecting stories of Anna. We are very fortunate in this regard to have many good photographs of her. We have a few video clips of her to preserve her voice. I hope that by remembering Anna we can begin the process of making sense of her life and her death in a way that will satisfy this primal need of us, and in some way might be helpful for others.
Wayne Oates writes, “Grief slams us in the face with the perils of idolatry of those we have tenderly cared for, strongly defended, and sacrificially provided for as parents.” I hope that memory of Anna will not glorify Anna, but rather honor her. I hope also that her memory will glorify her Lord.