Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

My fa­ther died twenty years ago at the age of 89. He was a good man and a beloved fa­ther. My mem­o­ries of him do not fade. I of­ten think of him. There are times when his pres­ence is very close. One night of ex­traor­di­nary beauty up the Esse­quibo I sat by the river’s edge with the for­est trees en­tan­gled with stars at my back and watched a gi­ant moon, shin­ing through the smoke of wood-fires, rise fiery red across the great river. It was one of those oc­ca­sions when the small­ness and tran­sience of an in­di­vid­ual life be­comes very real. For hours as the moon rose and slipped over­head to­wards the cliff of for­est trees be­hind me I thought of my fa­ther whose life was long as lives go but brief as a dream as all lives are.

What I have writ­ten about my fa­ther, though im­por­tant to me, is of no in­ter­est in a news­pa­per col­umn. Still, we all have par­ents and what hap­pens as they grow old is a uni­ver­sal ex­pe­ri­ence which is worth writ­ing about in pub­lic form. In think­ing about my fa­ther I thought about life’s last pas­sage which brings such sad­ness but which we can­not avoid as we our­selves grow old.

When I was young life’s last days seemed in­fin­itely dis­tant. It was more than that. The par­ents I loved so much, on whom I so rou­tinely de­pended, also seemed eter­nal. Within some magic cir­cle they were as safe as I was for as long as I could con­tem­plate and that seemed long in­deed. That was just yesterday it seems. But my fa­ther grew old and died and I knew then I had en­tered the time of life’s last pas­sages.

See­ing the very old you love grow frail and un­cer­tain to­wards an end you know will soon come brings home like noth­ing else the sad­ness of time that passes so quickly we never seem quite to grasp it. It seems not so long ago they were your strong, young par­ents and now they are old and weak and that brings home with ter­ri­ble force the tran­sience of life. It sud­denly shakes the heart to re­al­ize with fear­ful cer­tainty that what seems to be the per­ma­nence of our daily lives, our eter­nity of re­cur­ring rou­tines, are a com­plete il­lu­sion. You sud­denly know, if you never knew it well be­fore, that on your own deathbed you will mur­mur to no one in par­tic­u­lar “It was all a dream.”

One ter­ri­ble sad­ness which comes with watch­ing old, old age come to those we love is the re­al­iza­tion that there comes a time when life, which seems so sweet, is not worth liv­ing and death is good. Guilt comes in think­ing this of any­one we deeply love but the thought comes to most of us sooner or later and it brings the shadow of sad­ness to the rest of life. When my fa­ther was very old and dy­ing I was read­ing a mem­oir by the poet Blake Mor­ri­son, “And When Did You Last See Your Fa­ther?” in which he tells of the stages of his fa­ther’s dy­ing and de­scribes his in­cal­cu­la­ble grief. The telling brought me to tears many times. I was be­ing told so clearly what in my own life I was feel­ing so con­fus­edly. It is the art of great writ­ing to do that. “I felt as if an iron plate had come down through the middle of me, as if I was locked in­side the black­ness of my­self. I thought that to see my fa­ther dy­ing might re­move my fear of death and so it

Idid. I hadn’t reck­oned on it mak­ing death seem prefer­able to life.”

To see the very old you love slip­ping to­wards death brings vivid mem­o­ries of their past strength, how much you de­pended on their strength and care, and how you took that cer­tainty of their love and sup­port for granted. When par­ents die then in a sense, how­ever many oth­ers you love re­main, you are alone in a way you have never been be­fore. I know of a man, pow­er­ful head of a big com­pany, who af­ter his mother died would wake up at night want­ing to call out to her. I know how he must have felt. Who does not still in the re­cesses of the mind’s mem­ory re­call how safe it seemed when your mother or fa­ther came at night when as a child you called out in fear. No­body gives quite the same un­con­di­tional love as par­ents do. n the Kad­dish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, there is a pas­sage which is one of the most clear-sighted, and saddest, in all the books I have read: “A fi­nal sep­a­ra­tion awaits ev­ery re­la­tion­ship, no mat­ter how ten­der. Some­day we shall have to drop ev­ery ob­ject to which our hands now cling”. As we em­brace a beloved wife or hus­band, as we take our chil­dren in our arms, as the best of our friends meet with us, the bit­ter truth of the Kad­dish is a dis­tant com­pan­ion. But for most of us the truth first be­comes ab­so­lutely real when our par­ents die and leave us as if they had never been.

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