God Will Not Forget
By the Rev John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
The importance of remembering was something we first noticed when we worked with parents whose children had died. But now we know that the longing to “never forget” is quite normal whether the deceased is one’s child, one’s middle aged friend, or even an elderly parent.
When our loved one dies we invite relatives and friends to a memorial service. There we savor a rich experience in which we share our personal memories of the beloved, and laugh and cry as others also share their positive recollections of the one we loved so much. Even people we hardly know may surprise us when they speak tenderly about what they will miss and “never forget” about the one whose picture stands prominently at the front of the room.
But the truth is that most of these others will forget, and sooner than we would wish. The one we think about every day will quickly start to fade in the memory of others. That’s why, in our work at Grief Watch, we encourage those who have lost loved ones to invite close friends and family members to join them in marking the birth and death anniversaries of loved ones who have died. Such rituals serve not only as part of one’s own ongoing grief process. They also help remind friends and acquaintances of the loss and serve to keep some consciousness of the loved one alive in the memories of these others as well.
But we have known survivors (especially parents whose infants have died) who, later on in their personal journey of grief are dismayed to realize that one day they themselves woke one morning thinking first about something or someone else other than their loved one who died. For some this experience creates an anxiety that maybe even they too will forget, which in turn leads to the worry that they will eventually betray their deceased love one by failing to keep the that person’s memory alive.
To those I offer this fragment of poetry which will perhaps be comfort to bereaved parents and others beset with anxiety about remembering. Here the prophet Isaiah imagines God saying to God’s human children:
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget
yet I will not forget you.
See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands . . .
--Isaiah 49: 15-16 NRSV
I hear this as a reassuring word. Yes, even us humans who were closest to the one who is no longer with us will forget sometimes. As we move on in our lives, building new relationships and taking on new responsibilities, our memories of the beloved one will diminish with time.
But Isaiah reminds us that even if, now and then, we forget the one who has died, God never forgets any of us at any time. God keeps the memory alive. The one who formed the inward parts of each of us, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and from whose spirit we cannot flee—in life or in death (see also Psalm 139)—is thinking of us all the time!
This means that we don’t need to fear or regret those times when we forget. God’s got us covered, and we know that our loved one will never be utterly forgotten.