Having arrived home from a wedding to relieve my parents who were caring for our son, a tragedy almost unfolded as they were leaving.
Escorting them to the car, my father was there one moment, gone the next. On the side of the car where my mother was, I heard her cry out to him as he lay there in the rose garden having fallen backwards where he struck his head and back against the fence and letterbox, landing on a spiky rose plant. I dashed over to him and asked him if he was okay, somehow not wanting to move him in case there was spinal damage. Establishing he wasn’t having a heart attack, and that there were no broken bones, I lifted him awkwardly from the wedge of space he was in and got him back onto his feet. He jumped straight into the car, and Mum and I urged him to come back inside so we could make a proper assessment of his injuries – not least also so he could help him regain his composure. My wife and I got him seated inside, patched him up (abrasions, cuts and scratches), and soon, with sore back, they were on their way.
Moments like this, when something unforeseen happens, where what we always take for granted seems imminently threatened, there isn’t the time for panic to set in, it’s just pure shock.
As I walked inside I felt moved in my spirit. The plans I had to write were subsumed by the urge to do something else. I wanted to spend time with my father. I worried about them getting home safely – an hour away late at night. I decided to watch a home DVD of family twenty-five years ago that my father has filmed and lovingly curated – one scene, Dad interacting with my eldest daughter who wasn’t even a year old.
As I watched the video, I scarcely recalled those times, though there they were – memories in celluloid. Times when I was a much younger man, only just a father, my father only just becoming a grandfather. Even though there must have been difficulties back then, it seems like such an innocent and hopeful time. We were all so much younger. I look at my father move about as a man younger than I am presently. Part of me is sad. But part of me is also enriched and enveloped in the memories. Another part of me recognises how different my life is nowadays, and I’m unsure how to feel about that. And part of me wanted to share by sending clips of this video to family members; so I did.
What made me do this? The horrible thought that I might have been losing my father; the realisation that he won’t be around forever; the desire I have to be honest about my emotions; the want deep within me for connection with my parents while they’re alive.
When we almost lose a family member we’re given reason for instant gratitude that, in the reprieve, they live on. But there is a sadness borrowed from the future – the inevitable will no doubt all-too-soon arrive. This helps us and motivates us to make the most of our time, now.
Thoughts of loss put us into the realm of reality, for loss is the inevitable result of loving the living.
The title of the article also suggests this might be about ambiguous loss – the kind that family members suffer when their kin are struck with dementia, for just one instance. My heart goes out to anyone who must suffer the loss of their mother or father or someone else dear much earlier than their physical death. And, of course, there are many other varieties of ambiguous grief that I haven’t written about here. To all affected, I am sad for your pain.