Tomorrow I will attend my home church, as I typically do when I visit my parents for the weekend. With coffee cup in hand, I will make the rounds—hugging old (literally and metaphorically) friends and giving them the sweetened condensed version of how life presently is. Time will allow a few friends to linger longer, but most will need to hurry on to wherever they were headed when our paths crossed.
Often I’ve been the one hurrying a “hello” so I can hustle down the hall in search of an extra-special friend. Tim is a gentle, generous man for whom I’ve had a soft spot going on two decades. The spot got even softer nine years ago when his wife’s death from surgical complications left family and friends in stunned grief. Tim and Judy had become my friends years earlier when they taught me the ropes of directorship in Awana Clubs. Not long after that, they were close bystanders during the devastating death of one of my dearest dreams. Their friendship in those months and years was soul salve, and I loved them for it.
So, a trip to church is not complete if I don’t get to see Tim, give him a hug, and make him laugh. It’s not hard to make Tim laugh—he’s got a face that smiles, as if he’s just waiting for the punch line. And I love to deliver it—if only for a couple minutes every few months.
I already know that tomorrow’s trip to church won’t be complete. When I was home early in the summer I saw Tim for what may have been the last time. A month later he moved a couple states away to live closer to family. It’s unlikely that I’ll get across all those state lines to see my friend in his new home, but even if I do, he may not know me. Tim has Alzheimer’s, and while any onset of the wretched disease is too early, his was cruelly so.
Tim is one of several friends whose worlds are shrinking with memory loss. And when their worlds shrink, so do ours. We who love them grieve…thankful for life, but so sad about how it’s all going to turn out this side of the resurrection. So heartbroken about the road their families will walk with yet without them.
When Tim’s face lit up with recognition in June, I melted. I knew it might not happen again, and I hated to say good-bye. But my good-bye was short. As someone outside the closest circle, I will easily fade into Tim’s memories that are no longer there. I grieve, but from a distance. Those who walk closely with Tim know the depths of living loss, the enduring pain of the “long good-bye.”
I sometimes wonder about that future day, when God wipes away all tears and there is no more mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). All those things that cause us such pain will be no more. But what about painful memories, the source of so many tears on this pilgrim way? Our memories are so much of who we are, it seems they must remain intact—though perhaps purged or cleansed or somehow redeemed. Somehow, in spite of painful memories, God will wipe away all tears.
I suspect this universal eye-drying involves the restoration of lost memories, too. Someday I think I’ll make Tim laugh again. Someday all the Tims in God’s family will remember everything they know and love about us.
And then we all just might cry anyway.