The Curse and Divine Mercy of Human Forgetfulness
I hate that I forget...but it is unbearable to remember.
It never ceases to amaze me how people, right after their loved one dies in the ICU, can laugh with each other. They just suffered a terrible trauma: the death of a close family member. Still, they are able to laugh and smile.
The same thing happened to me: in the wake of my daughter's death, I was able to laugh about some lady who was making a huge amount of noise as I was giving a speech about how I missed my daughter during her memorial service. It was remarkable, actually, that I could even laugh after she died.
But, I have laughed innumerable times since her death. I have had innumerable times of happiness. I have been able to feel joy and not be overwhelmed by the suffocating pain of her loss. This is only because of the inherent forgetfulness of the human condition. We are programmed to forget, and this is nothing short of Divine Mercy. In fact, the Arabic name for human being, insan, comes from the same root as forgetfulness.
The reason that this forgetfulness is Divine Mercy is because, if we constantly remember the traumas of our past, life could not go on. We could not keep going. If I constantly remember the death of my daughter, there is no way I could continue to care for my patients who become critically ill and seek my care in the ICU. There is no way I could continue being a husband, a father to my other kids, a neighbor, a citizen, and so on. My forgetting is nothing short of Divine Mercy.
Now, there are many in our world who can't forget the traumas of their past, and this makes their lives living Hell. I pray for them. They need help to forget, so they can have some sort of healing from that trauma. I pray that no one is prisoner to the traumas of their past because they can't forget.
And, for me, my forgetting can also be a curse of sorts. As I said above, ever since the death of my daughter, I have been able to laugh and experience joy. Yet, the fact that I forget my daughter - the fact that, with each passing day, week, month, and year, I forget my daughter more and more is so painful for me. I hate that I forget, even though it is innate in me as a human being.
But, if I close my eyes and take my mind back to that last day of her life, when she was slowly deteriorating over the course of 24 hours; if I take my mind back to the moment in the ICU when I realized she was going to die and never come back; if I take my mind back to the moment I held her limp, terribly febrile body in my arms as she breathed her last, it is unbearable. The suffocating grief is overwhelming. The tears may never stop flowing, and then I quickly want to forget. It is a maddeningly vicious cycle from which I have not been able to escape.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is also a curse of human forgetfulness. Yet, truly, forgetting can be Divine Mercy.
Forgetting is the only reason I don't collapse in grief every time a patient is admitted to my ICU with septic shock (my daughter was killed by gram negative septic shock). Forgetting is the only reason I don't collapse in grief when I take of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the ICU now, given the multitude of COVID-19 patients that died in my ICU despite our absolute best efforts during the pandemic. Forgetting is the only reason - with all its painful aspects - that I have been able to live on after my daughter died. It is one of the many maddening things of the human condition, and I thank the Precious Beloved Lord for it.
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