When I can’t remember your face

I have lost a couple of important people in my life. To cancer. To horrible accidents. And no matter the cause, or the time there is to say goodbye, it is never easy. One of the biggest struggles with death is in how we honor those we’ve lost. To what degree do we keep memories alive? What does it say about us if we stop remembering? What does it say about them?

My daughter Megan was thinking about these things last week and wrote a song in memory of her sister. She struggles with the fact that she can’t remember a lot about her. It feels like a betrayal to forget a person who was so important. It feels wrong to not be able to recall the outlines of a face that was a sister, brother, mother, or friend. I am wondering, though, if faces are meant to stay inside our memories? I’m wondering if they may, in fact, be designed to be forgotten.

This thought first occurred to me when I was talking to a friend about his ex-wife. He had been looking through old pictures and was feeling a bit nostalgic. He said that when he looked through the photos, he remembered that she was pretty. He had stopped seeing her that way when they were married. It dawned on me that after a while, maybe we stop seeing a person’s face, and maybe instead we see a reflection of how they make us feel. The more I thought about this, the more it rang true to me.

The students at my school are constantly shocked when they find out how old I am. It’s not because I actually look 25. It’s because they like me. It’s because they feel good in my class and have fun with me. My appearance is a reflection of the way they feel when they are around me. I thought about all the people I have met who have either become unattractive to me or more and more beautiful. Those judgements are strictly based on how I feel when I am around them. In the book, “Why Men Love Bitches,” the author states that if you approach a relationship oozing self-confidence, a man will literally forget who he is looking at. Instead, he will see what you make him feel. So, how we feel seems to be a pretty significant override to what we see.

I think this is important because though I cannot remember the exact features of my mother’s face, I remember her warmth. I cannot recall the face of my brother and many memories have faded, but I remember the feeling of having a childhood confidante. My beautiful step-daughter, Alissa, is gone, and with every passing year, her face fades a little more from my memory. But I will never forget how we laughed, or the times I was privileged enough to offer comfort and feel the warmth of her love. I am not suggesting that the sadness we feel when we lose the physical memory of the people we’ve lost isn’t appropriate. It is a terrible and very sad thing. I just don’t think we need to feel shame about it. Faces fade even as they are in front of us. The indelible mark we leave behind was never intended to be physical — and I think that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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