I forgot the anniversary of my grandmother’s birthday this year. It’s the first time that’s happened since she died.
I realized, once I remembered, that after I’m gone, she really will be dead. All the way dead. The people who live only in my memory will be gone as if they never were, lost save for a marker somewhere, if that.
My children never met her. She died before they were even an idea. They’ve heard a few stories but you don’t talk about the dead as much as you think you will, especially not as time passes.
I talk to my mother about her periodically, of course. For her, the grief is different.
But when I die, my grandmother will be done. My children will know nothing about her save for a name on a family tree. They’ll never know she was a complicated, difficult, and interesting woman.
They won’t know she was an abusive mother at times who still loved her daughter and her grandchildren intensely.
They won’t know that she dressed well and like to go for walks every day. They won’t know that she used to go to the bakery when I was coming to visit to get me a child-sized loaf of brown bread. They won’t know she saved everything that came into the house, a left-over of living through the extreme poverty of the depression.
They won’t know that she made the best ham sandwiches in the world on the bread she sliced herself, so perfect and thin that that most sophisticated machine couldn’t match it.
The forgetting is not a flaw in the system. It is the system. No matter who you are, important shark or minor goldfish, you’re at best seventy-five years from oblivion. Even those who manage great works don’t escape this fate. Dusty books are filled with the accomplishments significant but the authors remain largely unknown, forgotten.
But what of God? God remembers. God knows the value of even the smallest grain of sand or something like that.
To be remembered by God would be nice. To live on in God’s memory would be grand. That, however, is a matter of faith for which there is no guarantee. What is certain is that we’ll be forgotten by those who come after us in fairly short order.
“If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. Because that’s all there is.” Angel. Epiphany. TV. 2001.
It is not important to me that I’m venerated after death. There’s the secret, tiny part that hopes for posthumous fame and accolades but I’m reasonably certain that’s not going to be a thing.
There will be no mitigation directed at the reality of my life in retrospect.
The truth is this: while it’s important to me that I’m remembered well by the small (globally-speaking) circle of people I’ve connected with and encountered in my lifetime, what I hope for in the moments leading up to my death if there’s time for reflection, is that I’m able to conclude I did my best, I tried to be a good person, I tried to live well, and the world is, in some small way, a better place for my presence.
In the end, what better epitaph could there be?