When my Father lay dying, I remember that one of the losses I began to grieve was that he was the keeper of many family stories. He was the one who could look at an old family photograph and tell you who they all were and something about each of them. As I saw him lying there, no longer able to talk much, I thought of all the memories stored up in his mind, all the stories, all the people he once knew and had spoken so vividly of.
And not only the family stories, but he was also a great historian and a great wellspring of the classics. He had read all the “Great Books” all of Shakespeare, all of Sacred Scripture, so many other worthy writings, and had memorized many lengthy quotes.
Such an encyclopedic mind, vivid thoughts, vivid memories, the keeper of the family story. And though I knew he’d take it with him in his soul, there was a grief to me that his magnificent mind was now closing to me. I regret I did not more carefully retain all he told me.
Thankfully he had written a family history that stays with us, and all his many photos and family films, that we worked to preserve, stay with us. We his sons, are moving much of this to digital, but it took Dad’s living presence to really bring these things home.
The video below put me in this reflective mind. It is of an old man who lays dying. And in various flashbacks we see his life, his stories, his good moments and tragedies. And then he passes.
I remember a Bible verse my father had jotted down on the frontispiece of a book he was reading at the time of his own father’s death:
But as for man, his days are like the grass, or as the flower that flourishes in the field. The wind blows, and he is gone, and his place never sees him again. (Psalm 103:16)
Reading that, as a very young teenager, I realized, for the first time that the Bible was very beautiful and I was startled to think that the house in which I was sitting would one day “never see me again.” All the stories, all the memories, gone with the proverbial winds.
The photo at the upper right is the last picture I ever took of my father. He standing in front of the family home. This was taken as he was leaving it for the last time. He moved into a retirement community for a brief while, but he was not long for this world. And, there he is, standing in front of the place that “never sees him again.”
Yes, there is something very precious about our memories, our stories. They are meant to be shared, handed down. But something irreplaceable, dies with each person. A very personal glimpse of history, a very personal story, something that can never be fully shared with anyone, no one but the Lord.
Only the Lord really knows our story, knows it better than we ourselves:
O LORD, you search me and you know me.
You yourself know my resting and my rising;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down;
you know all my ways through and through.
Before ever a word is on my tongue,
you know it, O LORD, through and through….
For it was you who formed my inmost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you who wonderfully made me;
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me yet unformed;
and all my days were recorded in your book,
before one of them came into being…
at the end I am still at your side… (Ps 139:varia)
Yes, the Lord knows. He knows all about us.
An old spiritual says, Nobody knows the trouble I seen, Nobody but Jesus. For in the end, he is the keeper of every story, my father’s, my own, yours. And whatever is lost in death will be restored a hundredfold, with understanding besides, in the great parousia. Not a story, not a word will be lost, but we shall recover it all, and tell the old, old stories once again.
Enjoy this poignant video: