Tuesday, 9 February 2010

What if?

R's uncle Les was a troubled man.

He had signed up for the army right at the start of the 2nd World War. He was injured at Dunkirk and captured a little later, and then spent the rest of the War in a PoW camp. After his camp was liberated, he spent months and followed a very circuitous route trying to get back to Britain.

As a result, he didn't make it back home until 1946, by which time the son he had left behind was a young teenager who had essentially grown up without a father. The family never really gelled, and Les's relationship with his son was a difficult one throughout his life.

In my memories, Les was a friendly, yet slightly reserved man, who was always kind and courteous to me. We got along fine, but it was easy to see that his relationship with his adult son was very strained, and they saw very little of one another in the later years beyond a short 'duty' visit every six months or so.

I have no idea what their family situation had been like before the War, but the 6-year separation combined with the very different courses their lives had run made it impossible to simply resume where they had left off and they were unable to ever make up the lost ground. To such an extent that, when he died, it was R's Dad who arranged Les's funeral - not his son.
It was so sad to see.

Lately I have been musing about how it would be if the thing I have hoped and prayed and begged and yearned for were to actually occur and R were to come back. If he were to just walk in the front door one Friday evening as he always did.

After the initial joy and euphoria had worn off, would we be able to take up our life together again where we had left off, as though he had simply been away on business for a while? Or would the forced separation have taken its toll on our relationship?

I have changed. I know I have, even though it has only been 18 months.
I am smaller, fitter and tougher for a start. Although I wasn't exactly fat before, I was on the verge of contentedly tipping into middle-aged spread. The food I now put on the table has changed a lot from the hearty meals we used to eat and I am very conscious of the need to stay healthy.

Naturally the intensity of emotion I have experienced has changed me. Tears come so easily now, and I have more empathy for other people who are feeling pain. Clawing my way up from the pit of despair has made me stronger. I have a different understanding of what is and what isn't important.

Of necessity I have become more independent and am learning to make my own decisions. I feel I am slowly becoming more confident in dealing with people and in social situations. I have burned most of his useful wood!

And R? How would he be? Where would his journey have taken him? Would he be the same carefree soul he was when he left? Surely he could not be unmarked by what happened to him.

How would we knit these two lives together again. Could we do it? Or would the divergent paths our lives had taken be too far apart to join once more?


  1. such an interesting thought adventure. i think your pain and endurance of it have only enhanced you. you are not a different person where it counts, the person R fell in love with and stayed in love with. you are still and more worth his love. and he would see it in you. i think he would come back from wherever and whatever is awaiting a person who has the gift of knowing death and being unafraid and he would see the person he loves standing in front of him who grew stronger because of that love. i think he would come back with the thought in mind of being beside you until you can both go together through that veil.

    i'm melancholy today. introspective and dreamy. one year and i'm waxing lyrical up there. but i believe that true love is permanent. no matter how the fire and ice changes the form, the love inside only grows deeper and the bond more unbreakable.

    you are in my heart.

  2. I think that loss, from the mere aspect of having it happen changes us. But we are far more changed by having to then face our loss, grieve, carry on alone and move forward. I believe that those of us who have had to walk this road become very different people. And I believe that ultimately we are more perspective, thankful, deeper, compassionate, mature and caring. I would go so far to say that we might be even better people than our neighbors or most others out there in the world.

    I'm not sure it is possible for us to go backward on this road after we've gone ahead so far on our own. But I know that having survived the impossible, that I can keep going and making it. Thus, it would make sense that if you were to be reunited with R., that you would have the patience, endurance, strength and capacity to make it work if that is what you desired.

  3. Thank you for writing this, J. I've wondered the same sometimes, although in a somewhat more complicated context.

    I have two thoughts on your own question. The first answer comes from the (few) dreams I've had where Jenny has come back. We welcomed each other exactly as if she had never gone away, even though it was clear to me that we both knew she had. That was comforting -- analagous perhaps to meeting an old but very good friend, where you can pick it up again exactly where you left off, no matter how long it's been.

    My second thought follows WitM's excellent comment above. She outlines all the wonderful qualities and wisdom which this experience brings. But for what it's worth, I'm certain that all of these qualities are within us already -- really, it's just that the learnings of bereavement force us to bring them out into the open.

    It is a life-changing experience -- no doubt about it. Life looks completely different now, and you appreciate everything in it so much more. By going through so much suffering, you gain the deepest understanding of compassion which it is possible to obtain.

    With all of that inside you, there's just no question that you can achieve anything you want to. As womanNshadows said, it has only enhanced you. That's exactly what this does, a desperately hard and undesired improvement process as it is.

  4. @WnS: Your words made me cry. I love your term "thought adventure", but I still wonder about "enhanced". Certainly I feel hardened - with extra layers of varnish to protect the soft inside - but does that really make a person better? Is it worth the loss of softness and spontaneity that made up the person who went before? I don't know.

    @WitM: Thank you for your wisdom as always.

    "I'm not sure it is possible for us to go backward on this road after we've gone ahead so far on our own."

    I think I am still at a stage where I want to go back - not just in the sense of having R back, but also mourning the happy-go-lucky person that was me. I am not sure I will ever find her again, which is a shame. The new person who is evolving is OK, and I think I will ultimately like her, but I can't help looking back sadly at the one who has gone.

    @ Roads: Thank you. It is always good to hear words from people further on in this journey. Right now, as I said above, I feel hard and spikey and fortified, which helps me to get through the days without falling apart. But I would really like to rediscover my soft edges - I would hate to think they are lost forever.