“To have memories of those you loved and lost is perhaps harder than to have no memories at all.”
– Gabriel Van Helsing, Van Helsing
When Van Helsing says this, he is in company of a woman who has lost her entire family, a litany of sorrow that has been most recently added to by the loss of her brother, who gave his life for hers. To make her agony all the worse, her brother has returned to her having been turned into a werewolf. A horrible fate, for now he has to be killed again before he kills others, yet she longs to save him, to somehow find a way to get her brother back. It is a doomed venture, but one which she must undertake because of how dearly she loves him. That is something which Van Helsing must relent to, because it is something that he does not know, and yet a part of him longs to know it. See, he does not have memories of his past, save for the nightmares of ancient battles. He does not know who he has loved and who he has lost in a life that has been far longer than he remembers. He is spared that pain, and so recognizes the burden of it as it falls on another.
What he says is very much true, it is, indeed, harder to have memories of those we lose. And I don’t only mean in death. Death is a thing that happens to us all, and those of us who can have the hope of eventual reunion can survive that loss. But there are other forms of loss. Betrayal, the ending of friendships, the breaking of families, family feuds and rifts that last so long that everyone forgets what they were originally about. To lose those we love in any way is painful, and to carry memories of the happiness we once had is always a burden, always difficult. To remember none of it is to avoid that burden.
But avoiding a burden isn’t always a good thing, is it? No, I seem to recall that there is no way around pain, no way to truly avoid it, and those who have tried have often only made things worse for themselves and those around them.
I have a certain qualm with that trope of the immortal amnesiac. Namely that it ignores the value of our memories, even the painful ones, which I have spoken about before. To forget the people we have loved is to forget everything they gave us, everything they taught us. Knowledge is power, and it is found in experience, in memory. To forget everything is to become weaker, to forfeit the strength that our loved ones have given us, and thus make their lives and our lives that much more meaningless. And to do so simply because it hurts? That is cheap and weak indeed.
I recall the Winter Soldier from the MCU had his memories taken from him, again and again. Did that make him stronger? No. It just made him easier to control. And regaining his memories was painful to the extreme, yes, but it certainly made him stronger and more whole.
If there is one benefit which I can see from forgetting and evading the pain of loss, it would be this: once burned, twice shy. Experiencing the same pain over and over again will make us try to avoid it on some level, like a child who eventually learns to be more careful with a hammer. In the case of a pain that is brought on by feeling love, we may try to stop loving. We may hesitate to open ourselves up in the one way that we need to be open. But even then, I would still argue in favor of remembering everything anyway. It is certainly a hard thing to open ourselves to a pain that we have known before, but doing so with our eyes open is what can make us wise, and help us to truly heal from our pain, until the agony is gone and joy is all that remains.
So I say, however hard it is or may be to bear the pain that comes with love, we are the better and stronger for it.