For about 10 years after my dad died, every once in a while I would have a dream about him. He died of cancer and in the dream, he would either have just returned, which made me happy. But most of the time there was always still a sense that he was not well. The dreams were my way of dealing with the loss. I haven't had those dreams for a long time now, however, there are still many ways in which I remember my father. I have several items that belonged to my dad. I have kept these items because they are special to me as memories and as some connection to him.
One of the realities when a loved one passes away is that we remember them and we can't not remember. Is there any value in remembering? What is the value of having a time like this in which we remember our loved ones together?
One value is that remembering honors them in a number of different ways.
We have lived in at least seven or eight communities in our married life. After we left a community and had been gone for a while, there were many things we forgot about that community. But once in a while we have met someone from that community and as we began to talk the memories flooded back.
We sometimes think that the same thing happens when a person passes away. We fear that after they pass away, they will soon be forgotten. Remembering and being deliberate about remembering means that they are not forgotten and in that we honor their memory.
Remembering also helps us think about what they meant to us. There is a story in Acts 9 which I always find very warm. A woman by the name of Dorcas became ill and died. The people of her community sent for Peter. Were they perhaps hoping that he could raise her from the dead? When Peter got there we read in Acts 9:39, "…they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them." In this story they were remembering and they were declaring what Dorcas meant to them. I like that picture and when we remember a loved one who has passed away, we also think about and declare what they meant to us. Such an experience is a warm experience and such memories are good.
Such memories can also do more than just give us an opportunity to be encouraged by what they meant to us, but can also encourage and perhaps even challenge us by remembering their impact on our life.
Although they hadn't died, Paul speaks about this kind of a thing in Hebrews 13:7 when he says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." This is a great verse that calls us to remember what someone's impact was in our life and also encourages us to continue to imitate them. I suspect that this kind of thinking happens at funerals quite often. Then and afterwards, we remember how our loved one influenced us. As we remember their influence, we also are encouraged to continue to imitate their life.
When we build on such memories and share them with others, especially children and young people, we are part of passing on a heritage. Hebrews 12:1 talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. This comes after a whole chapter which reflects on the different people who followed God and how their life turned out. Considering such a heritage has been important to me when I think about my ancestors and when I think about how they lived their lives and followed God. They continue to impact my life as a heritage of faith that is worth following.
A second value is that remembering helps us with the process of grieving.
When we remember, we are given permission to face our loss. If we mask the grief with busyness and distraction, we merely postpone the day when it will cause us pain. Remembering allows us to be in the place of facing loss and as we go to that place, we are able to process it.
I like the way one writer put it, "Sometimes, for fear of "letting go," we may find ourselves "holding on" to our pain as a way of remembering those we love. Letting go of what used to be is not an act of disloyalty, and it does not mean forgetting our loved ones who have died. Letting go means leaving behind the sorrow and pain of grief and choosing to go on, taking with us only those memories and experiences that enhance our ability to grow and expand our capacity for happiness."
One thing I have learned is that you don't get over loss, rather, you learn to live with it. Remembering helps us do that. Remembering is often not comfortable because it brings up the pain once again. Yet, if we continue to go to the place of memory, the grief and the pain become familiar to us and we learn that we can stand the pain. We also learn that we will come through the pain. So we should not be afraid to go to the place of remembering because it will bring us to a place of peace.
Molly Fumia puts it well when she says, "If I am to wear this mourning cloak, let it be made of the fabric of love, woven by the fine thread of memory."
An experience such as we are having here today, where we remember together in community, helps us with another aspect of grief.
As we share the grief, we are reminded that others are experiencing the same kind of pain, the same kind of grief and the same kind of loss. We share the understanding that we are not alone.
The other blessing is that as we remember together, we have an opportunity to tell others about our loved one and such a sharing of memories is very encouraging.
So remembering becomes a shared grief and a shared memory.
It is possible to get stuck in memory. Unhealthy remembering begins to define our life and controls all our thoughts. But there is also healthy remembering which honors our loved one, helps us learn to live with loss and moves us towards the place where we can live again.
In Philippians 1:3 we read, "I thank my God every time I remember you," If we look at memory with that kind of a thought in our mind, it will certainly be a time of encouragement and blessing.