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Saturday, 29 March 2008

Memorial

Is there any appropriate and fitting way to create a memorial to those who have passed away?

I'm not sure there is. Can anything ever really embody the whole memory of a person? Is there anything that can do justice to their life? Most people don't get more than their name carved into a chunk of stone. Is that all we are, when it comes down to it? A name, an arbitrary grouping of letters, one possibility amongst millions? To a certain extent, yes. But isn't there something more?

I know people who have done memorials when their loved ones passed away. Making a special wreath to commemorate their grandfather, or I know that RF's friends did a beach memorial after his funeral. And then there's Kaethe Kollwitz, who spent the rest of her life sculpting a memorial for her son. Is any of these more fitting than the others? Are any of them good enough?

The only experience I've ever really had with death is when my grandmother passed away two years ago. I, we, whatever, didn't make any sort of special memorial for her. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had. She is already slipping away from my mind, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Can we really hold onto these memories forever? Don't we have to let go and move on eventually?

But the dead want to be remembered. In Dante's Divine Comedy, everywhere he goes in the afterlife, the dead tell him their stories, asking him to pass them on back in the mortal world. Gilgamesh defeats the giant Humbaba solely because he wants to make a name that will last forever. Think about it: when you die, everyone you care about will forget you. It's terrifying, isn't it? Don't you want to be remembered?

On the other hand, though, wouldn't it be better if you could just be forgotten, so that your loved ones didn't have to carry this pain with them, so that they could move on? But we do that anyway, eventually and to a certain extent. The memories always slip away, and no memorial could ever capture them all properly.

Maybe, in the end, a name on a stone is the only way it can be done: by reducing ourselves to a name, we allow those who carry on to retain as much or as little in association with that name as they are capable of and want.

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