Monday, August 8

Time stopped when my son died. Now his step shapes my pain | Family


JJust a few months before the Earth turned its axis when a virus left China to travel the world and cause more than 4.5 million deaths in it, an axis of love broke inside me. A world within the world broke its moorings, never to return.

Before October 2019, the straight arrow of time was just that. It had no other dimension. Now the arrow is real and illusion. And, unbeknownst to me, a new language was forming to try to define the meaning of it all. This was the time to shape the loss. It started two years ago, when time stood still.

Two hourglasses sit inside me now. In one the grains of sand continue to flow, from seconds to hours to days. In the other, the sand is frozen, its grains suspended from the moment my son took his last breath. Hamish was 21 years old.

Now there are shadows within shadows. There is breath within breath. There are words within words.

While I might have had hints of these things, from a philosophical point of view, the last two years have taught me this in the way the moonlight seeps into my bones.

I have written at intervals for the past two years about pain and memory. The words were the emanation of a deep well. I can’t stop the flow other than stop the hours. He has felt, in his non-rational way, a means of keeping my son alive: if there were words instead of ashes, the pain would be less. Something to hold on to, the heart demanded, regardless of the head.

In those first weeks, the words were drawn from a raw wound and a relentless pulse of regret. People speak of time as the great healer, as a comfort and consolation, but it is also scary because it puts a distance between the living and the dead. It cannot be otherwise, of course. Life goes on.

And yet. And yet. Moving forward, there has been a shift in the gears of pain. There is an elementary change in the definition of duel. Right away, I hate it, but I know it’s undeniable. My son’s life is slipping away.

The here and now of his is like a small boat sailing from me in an ocean too wide and deep to contain him. Sometimes in the growing separation of the years, I think I can hear him say, let go of daddy, I’m leaving. And this is the hardest part. Because you’re right, and memory doesn’t really replace the here and now. Yet being all there is, standing before the great jaws of eternity, one appreciates it. You embrace it, and thank the time for having had love at all. How lucky is that in the vastness of the universe?

Rilke wrote in Requiem for a friend: “We need, in love, to practice just this: / let go / because holding on is easy; / we don’t need to learn it. “

Words are easier to write than to act. Rilke never had a child.

In recent months the words have become more distilled. The prose has become poems. The journey to a finished poem is a strange journey, because words are discarded more than they are used. A poem is naked. The links in the chain of words seem more intense and more closely intertwined in the distillation of sentiment to prevent the circle from breaking. It’s ironic that you should describe the virtues of the poem in a prose piece, but there it is.

This is one of the poems:

The wake

The surface breaks and in parting
wave lines fade.
They crown and then they fade into the fold
that swirls and sleeps under the stream of water.

This is the lapping of every moment
from the cradle rock to the silent grave,
this is the voice that no longer travels
but for what he left and what he gave.

This is the wake that widens, carrying
the echo and the call of a life now past
to my days on the coast. Water
runs through my hands. I hold it fast.

Two years ago, time stood still. And yet, as Shakespeare wrote: “As the waves are heading toward the shingle shore / So our minutes rush to an end.” True enough. Death is a certainty. And yet time continues and we go with its currents. I like to think that swimming in this ocean, waiting for the next wave, he is next to me, yelling: Go for it, Dad.

Warwick McFadyen is a Melbourne-based writer and editor.


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