Who Will Remember Allison?
It was a beautiful Atlanta spring day in May 1987, but it was the worst day of my life.
An early morning biopsy delivered the devastating news that my beloved wife, Allison, had breast cancer at age 34. It was, indeed, the worst day of my life to that point. Many worse days lay ahead.
With a small tumor and no evidence of spreading, the initial prognosis was excellent. Just to be safe, Allison had aggressive surgery and six months of chemotherapy. Buoyed by confidence in what seemed to be a guarantee against recurrence, we traveled to Charleston, the site of our honeymoon, to celebrate her recovery.
Everything fell apart a mere eight months later when a bout of back pain proved to be a massive recurrence of cancer in Allison’s spine. The cancer marched on relentlessly, ravaging her body. By the time she died at age 37, Allison’s body had degenerated into that of an old woman. The most striking damage was the loss of six inches in height from destruction to her spine.
“God … will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints” (Heb. 6:10).
All of our plans were crushed by the recurrence. Battered by countless doses of chemotherapy and radiation, Allison could not become pregnant as we had hoped, and, due to her deteriorating condition, we could not even pursue adoption. We cancelled all our plans, including a much anticipated trip to Europe. Routine outings became impossible ordeals. Although Allison loved the holiday season, she couldn’t muster enough energy to decorate in her final two Decembers.
Shortly before she died, when it seemed our desperate prayers had all failed and we had been abandoned by God, Allison murmured through her pain and tears, “If I die, I’ll be forgotten.”
Choked by my own tears, I whispered, “I won’t let that happen.”
In the years since Allison died, I have been blessed with a wife and two wonderful children. As the ordeal has receded into my past, new plans and dreams have replaced those crushed by her illness and death.
Since Allison drew her last breath, I have felt honor bound to keep my promise. But what could I do to keep her memory alive? I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s acknowledgement in the Gettysburg Address of our “poor power” to consecrate the fields of war to soldiers lost in battle.
I tried to do what was within my small powers to preserve Allison’s wish. I distributed some of her jewelry and personal items to family and friends, hoping it would help keep her memory alive. I gave some college money to nieces and nephews in her memory. And, at the Atlanta area hospital where she died, I set up a small fund, named after her, to support breast cancer research.
But can I really preserve Allison’s memory? The words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes ring depressingly true: “There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them” (1:11).
Even some of the most famous people in history have been quickly forgotten after their time in the sun. As Camus wrote, “Nothing of the conqueror lasts, not even his doctrines.”
Does my Christian faith address the human desire to be remembered? According to Scripture, God “looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:24). He knows about everyone who has ever lived. In Psalm 139:1-4, we’re told that God is completely aware of every individual. David wrote: “LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue,You know all about it, LORD.”
Paul underscores, in 1 Cor. 13:12, that he is “fully known” by God, and he will someday “know fully.” Not only does God know each of us, He will not forget us. The writer of Hebrews assures us: “For God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints” (Heb. 6:10).
Does God’s knowledge of us provide any comfort against the fear of being forgotten? Indeed, Jesus assured His disciples: “But even the hairs on your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid” (Matt. 10:30- 31). God’s knowledge of each of us includes minute details we don’t know. That gives us reason to overcome our natural fears of being insignificant and forgotten.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery bears this inscription: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” This expresses our belief that God knows us and will remember what we do not know and cannot remember about ourselves and others.
We need not fall into the trap that ensnared the scribes and Pharisees who did “everything to be observed by others” (Matt. 23:5). Because our omniscient God knows each of us, we can relax. Regardless of how much attention we have received in life or how well we are remembered, our own significance, and that of every individual, is as great as it could ever be.
Although I cherish my memories of Allison, it’s not up to me to remember her. Her significance does not depend on my ability to push her memory forward into the future. In view of God’s knowledge, neither she nor any of us will slip away unnoticed and forgotten.