5FeatureWS_6May2024_MemoryRelationshipandRemembrance
5PulseWS_20May2024_ConsciousAI
5CredoWS_20May2024_OnPrometheanShameandtheGiftofCreatureliness
5PulseWS_6May2024_DignitasInfinita
5CredoWS_6May2024_CalledtoHealthWealthandSuccess
ETHOSBannerChinese
ETHOS2023EngagementWhatIsManBSS1360x380px
previous arrow
next arrow

Feature
6 May 2024

The Lord called my mom home almost a year ago. She was then 83 years old. I have been her main caregiver in the last five years of her life. This article is one of my ways to remember her. This is also for those who may have experienced a similar journey.

While celebrating Lunar New Year (LNY) in 2018, I came to a startling realization that my then 79-year-old mom’s memory was fading away. She could not recall where we went and what we ate during our LNY family lunch when someone asked her about it later at night on the same day. While we initially responded to this reality light-heartedly as a natural process of aging, I was afraid that her gradual loss of memory might become more difficult to swallow.

The world acknowledges the crucial importance of memory. Luis Bunuel, a secular filmmaker, in his autobiography My Last Sigh, aptly but depressingly argues:

You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, or even our action. Without it, we are nothing.

 

At the same time, many also have portrayed the awful consequence of losing our memories. For instance, in The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, Jay Ingram explains how the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and other similar conditions which attack the brains of patients develop in the history of medicine. In the book, he writes a pretty sombre introduction:

[Alzheimer’s] is a wicked disease that robs its victims of their memories, their ability to think clearly, and ultimately their lives. For centuries, those afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease have suffered its debilitating effects while family members sit by, watching their loved ones disappear a little more each day until the person they used to know is gone forever.

 

This solemn warning echoed by this book has helped me not only to anticipate the possible misery my mother’s memory loss can bring, but also at the same time to appreciate what a beautiful divine gift the human memory is.

When I look at the Scripture, to remember or to keep one’s memory is expressed in more positive ways. First of all, Scripture tells us of the fundamental importance of remembering, especially the deeds of the Lord (Ps 77:11), His laws (Mal 4:4), and of Himself (Eccl 12:1), from generation to generation (Exo 3:15). It also encourages us in our thought and prayer to remember one another: Our brethren in Christ (Phil 1:3, Eph 1:16), our leaders (Heb 13:7), and those who are poor and ill-treated (Heb 13:3, Gal 2:10). At the same time, we are also privileged to be able to ask God to remember His covenant (Ps 105:8) and His mercy (Ps 25:6).

Hence, we can conclude that, biblically, memory is essential not just for our life’s sake, as per Bunuel’s quote. It is, more importantly, an aspect of our response and relationship to God Himself and to one another. Our memory does not exist on its own for its own sake, but stands in relation to God, our Creator.

Consequently, memory is also an important element which keeps human relationships thriving. Back to my mom’s narrative, till the end of her life, I never fail to feel grateful that each time I call her, she still remembers me as her son, despite her failing memory. I am also thankful that I can catch many glimpses of God’s love in my fond memories of her taking care of me when I was sick, or even scolding me when I did something wrong.

Now, even after a year of her passing, I still remember the moments I was worried about her, buying Ensure milk and hunting for the chocolate flavour (her favourite), the sound of her walking frame at home, pushing her wheelchair around when we went out for meals, praying with her before sleep. I still can recall taking care of her. These memories, though sometimes painful, help her to remain dear to me.

But what if our memory eventually fails us? What if we cannot remember God at all at the end of our life? There is a person I know of who became a Christian in his 60s. Since then he has lived a faithful Christian life—earnestly reading and learning the Scriptures and serving passionately in his church and community. However, in his 80s, this person contracted severe dementia, which attacked the more recent memories in his life. Consequently, he forgot the Christian teachings he learned and lifestyle he has been living in the last 20 years of his life. He started to live like a person he was before he became a Christian, including carrying out the practices of his previous religion.

During her final days, my mom’s memory failed her miserably. I kept wondering what was wandering in her mind during those days. At her hospital bed, I wrote this poem imagining her possible struggles with her soul crying to her Lord:

when I cannot tie my own shoelaces,

when I need to snail my paces

when my mind wrestles to recall faces,

would you bear with me?

 

when I must live with incontinence,

when I struggle to breathe with confidence,

when my speech is full of incoherence,

would you abide with me?

 

when I do not articulate my faith right,

when I sail through the darkest night,

when my vision loses sight,

would you be with me?

 

when I can recall your name no more,

would you call me by my name?

when you lead me home,

Shepherd of my soul, would you remember me?

 

The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism fittingly asks and answers the above queries. The question is “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” and the answer is “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” We belong to him and, indeed, our Lord Jesus knows his sheep (Jn 10:14). Our memory may fail us miserably, but when he leads us home, he will call us by our name. God will never fail to remember his own.


Lisman Komaladi is former General Secretary of Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) Singapore (2008-2020). He now serves as the Regional Secretary of IFES East Asia. He received his theological training from Trinity Theological College and University of St Andrews, Scotland.