As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
“When did Dad die?” my mother asks for the fourth time that hour. I tell her again, and she is shocked again. Whether the answer is three days, 10 days, two weeks, or a month, she looks at me in disbelief and says, “That long? Where have I been?” And later she asks, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Mom has Alzheimer’s disease. She struggles with the passage of time. Recently, with the sudden death of my father, she couldn’t remember the events that had transpired, even though she was usually aware that Dad had died.
With her impaired short-term memory, Mom has no way of marking the passage of time, no memories with which to count the days. Like a scratched record album, her life is stuck on “repeat” and can only move forward when the needle is bumped, and we remind her of the events of the past.
Memories of what transpired yesterday, last week, or last month enable us to feel and experience time passing, and thus, to move on with today. Knowing where we’ve been and how we arrived there assures us of where we’re going.
When time stands still
In a way, the current pandemic feels like a broken record too. It’s resulted in a strange marking of time. Our usual memory-making events have not occurred in the ways we’re used to. For months we missed going to in-person worship, and many are still attending church online. Our kids missed out on end-of-the-school-year moments like spring musicals, prom, graduation, and teachers waving goodbye to school buses. For sports lovers, competitions were canceled and the seasons came to a sudden halt. And those working from home, like my husband, report every day feels the same.
Without new memories to mark the passage of time, our days blend together, and time stands still.
Much like the confusion my mother experiences, we find ourselves in a state of limbo. Our missing memories leave us feeling disoriented and we look to the future with much uncertainty and trepidation. We begin to fear the unknown and even question whether God is paying attention.
So how can we feel grounded again? Can we mark our current path in a way that calms our fears and relieves our anxiety? Might memories of our pre-pandemic lives help us face an uncertain future?
Marking time, making memories
When Mom repeatedly asked about Dad’s death, I marked the day on her calendar with “Dad went to heaven” and we began crossing off each day thereafter, while moving a post-it note onto “Today.” The visual reminders have helped her process his death and calmed her anxiety.
In addition to notations on her calendar, we’ve also used photos and scrapbooks filled with memories to comfort Mom. As we peruse the memories of her life with Dad, God’s faithfulness through the ups and downs of his life of 86 years, and their marriage of 64, is evident. Mom remembers the good times they had together and the blessing of their many children and grandchildren.
Marking paths and recording memories are nothing new. People have been finding ways to do so for thousands of years. Old Testament stories show us how the Israelites remembered miraculous acts of God. After Jacob encountered God face-to-face in his dream, he marked the place with a stone and named it Bethel. Later he returned to this place with his family, as a way of remembering God’s presence on his journey (Gen. 28:18, 35: 14-15).
There are many examples of the Israelites using these “standing stones.” After crossing the Jordan River they piled up stones (Josh. 4:2-9), again to remember how God had led them through the river on dry ground. Stones also marked Moses’ receiving of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24:2-4) and Joshua’s renewed covenant with God (Josh. 24:27). These pillars of rock served as reminders to the Israelites for generations.
As we struggle through the uncertainty of this pandemic, we can take a lesson from the notes on my mom’s calendar, the scrapbooks full of memories, and the standing stones of the Israelites. Though different in their approach, each is an effective tool for remembering.
How memories bring hope
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12).
Like making marks on a calendar, we can begin by recording how God is with us today along this never-before-traveled path. By journaling events, hopes, fears, and gratitude for answered prayers, the strength God has provided will become visible and more tangible as we look back.
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Ps. 9:1).
Like paging through scrapbooks, we can recall events in our lives prior to the pandemic when God’s hand was at work. Despite the trials we’ve endured, God’s presence and provision have gotten us through tough times in the past. Just as the Israelites made it through the Jordan River on dry ground, God has cleared a way for us when we were about to slip and fall or get pulled under. We all have personal memories to recount that can give us hope.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds (Ps. 77:11-12).
Like the Israelites’ standing stones, we can see God’s hand in our nation’s past. Although most of us have never lived through something like this before, our ancestors have. As we review our history, we note times of great trials, like the 1918 influenza pandemic, World War II, the Great Depression, the polio epidemic—each a time of unfathomable suffering and loss. God was present in the lives of our ancestors even during and despite these crises.
When we look back and remember God’s providence in our lives before and during this pandemic, through times of joy and times of sorrow, we are reminded of his ultimate control. Our memories—the “standing stones,” scrapbooks, and calendars of our lives—allow us to count the days, count the blessings, and count the times that God’s love and provision held us up.
In remembering, we find our source of peace. In faith, we trust God is paying attention. In hope, we can move forward with confidence. Even during a pandemic.
About the Author
- Linda Hanstra, a semi-retired speech-language pathologist, writes about what brings joy to her empty nest–faith, family, cycling, traveling, grandparenting, and more–at lindahanstra.com and on Substack. The author of Lent through the Little Things, Linda and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Indiana.