before eliza died, i had no idea how strong the urge to cling to memories could be. i remember not long after she died describing to a friend the panicky feeling that came over me as i began to forget formula-mixing ratios. i was terrified when i realized her smell no longer lingered in my nostrils, heartbroken the first time 10pm passed without my thinking it was time for her meds. one wouldn't think that medication doses would be something a person would be eager to remember; i certainly wouldn't have thought so. but when so much of a person's life was about medication doses, forgetting that means letting just a little bit of that person's life slip away. the scariest thought of all, though, was that as those little bits slipped away--so quickly! just months after she died--there was no getting them back. and if the medication doses i had measured for years, had burned into my brain to recite to so many doctors and pharmacists could slip away so easily, what would i forget over the next months, not to mention years and decades? i felt like i was frantically grasping, clawing, fighting to remember every little detail, even as i could feel those things slipping from my grasp.
i thought that was the most terrifying thing.
but then, about a week ago, luke's teacher's dog--whom he loves, although i must admit that fact doesn't make this particular dog all that special, as the boy has never ever met a dog he doesn't love (wonder where he got that?)--had a seizure. over dinner, i shared that news with him. "what's a seizure, mom?"
i was stunned.
"you know, a seizure. like what eliza used to have."
in case you aren't a follower of eliza's story (does any such reader exist here?), i need to let you know that intractable seizures were eliza's main ailment. she had dozens (hundreds?) daily, which could not be controlled by any medication. luke not only knew what they were, but he relished his job as eliza's backseat companion in the car: he was in charge of letting me know when eliza was seizing and whether she looked like she would vomit or not (which she often did) so i would know whether i needed to pull over to clean her off or help clear her airway. he was an excellent seizure-monitor.
i was sure he had just misheard me, misunderstood the word. "you know, a seizure."
"you must remember! when her brain would do strange things and she would make noises and move in strange ways and sometimes throw up?"
"oh, yeah. i remember she used to throw up."
i was stunned. we worked very hard to make sure that luke understood as well as he could what was going on with his sister throughout her life. we didn't want there to be any kind of mystery about her illness and so made sure that he understood, for example, that eliza's vomiting was very different from when he had the stomach flu, that eliza was "sick" in a very different way from any way he would ever be sick, that her brain didn't work the same way his did...and on and on and on. he knows all about seizures and all of eliza's other ailments and ultimately why she died...or at least he knew all about them.
i thought my forgetting was the most terrifying thing. but i had no idea.
And at the end, that now we must learn to live as faithfully and authentically with Eric gone as we had tried to do with Eric present.
How do we do that? And what does it mean? It will take a long time to learn.
It means not forgetting him. It means speaking of him. It means remembering him. Remembering: one of the profoundest features of the Christian and Jewish way of being-in-the-world and being-in-history is remembering. 'Remember,' 'do not forget,' 'do this as a remembrance.' We are to hold the past in remembrance and not let it slide away. For in history we find God.
If Eric's life was a gift, surely then we are to hold it in remembrance--to resist amnesia, to renounce oblivion. --Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
a friend tells me that i should be grateful that luke doesn't remember this unfortunate fact about eliza's life, that i should be glad that suffering is erased from his memory. but it's impossible for me to be glad that he has--already!--forgotten something so essential to who she was. sure, it was not something good about who she was, but it was true and very present all the same; it was her daily reality, and his daily reality with her. i am in no way, as it turns out, concerned with remembering only the good things, and it turns out, too, that i don't want that for luke, either.
which is why luke's forgetting--and not even realizing he has forgotten--is perhaps even more frightening than my own. and he has decades more than i do, God willing, to forget even more without ever knowing it.