Reading a short memoir by Viktor Frankl, Recollections: an Autobiography, I found a moment when the founder of logotherapy faced the most difficult test of his life.
With Nazism ruling Austria and the deportations of Jews underway, he had the opportunity to get a US visa to leave Vienna and start a new life in America. However, he rejected the way to his salvation. At that time, Frankl held a position in a hospital for Jews, which protected his parents. The moment he would abandon his post to leave the country, they would be sent to concentration camps.
Frankl gave up the trip to share the same fate as his parents and his wife. They all ended up in concentration camps and only he, after overcoming extreme hardships, came out alive. Even so, he never doubted that he had done the right thing.
This tragic episode made me think about an issue that has haunted me for many years. Whenever a friend tells me that he is not in contact with his parents, whatever the reason is, a deep sadness invades me. Sometimes I even try to convince the person to make amends, even if it means that he or she has to swallow the pride and endure difficult situations.
The film, Falling, directed by and starring by Viggo Mortensen, illustrates this case very well. A man who lives with his male partner decides to take care of his father, homophobic and highly disrespectful. Still, the son feels he must do it.
One of my friends has a complicated relationship with his father, who is much less rude than the one in the movie. Sometimes months, even a whole year, have gone by without us, he and I, talking. The other day, I saw that he had posted a photo on social media in which the father and the son were having dinner at a restaurant. The caption of my friend’s photo simply said: “Having Spaghetti with Dad”.
Looking at that photo of them in the restaurant, I felt strangely happy. This leads me again to wonder why I care so much about this topic. Maybe it’s because my parents died a decade ago. My mother was my great support, and I had little relationship with my father. Still, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about them.
I consider it a privilege to have parents in one’s life, however imperfect they may be. And I think I already know why I am so concerned that daughters and sons maintain ties with their parents.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a sacred mission for parents and another one for children. It is obvious that the job of the parents is to bring their children to life, raise them and help them grow until they fly out of the nest, as it is commonly said. However, children also have their sacred task: accompanying their parents in death.
Although I was not with her in the last hours of her life, as I explain in my autobiography, I spent every night with my mother during those agonizing weeks in the intensive care unit.
When I was a baby, my mother fed me porridge with a spoon, like all children. In her last days, she was so weak that I was the one who fed her with the spoon. The circle was closed.
I was able to integrate her loss much better, thanks to having spent those evenings and nights together in the waiting room of death. The grief after my father passed away, a few years earlier, had been much more difficult for me.
Having had a very distant relationship, when he became seriously ill, I only came occasionally to say hello, and we did not talk about anything important. He left this world without us having forgiven each other, and we never could express our love beyond all the difficulties.
I dreamt of him many nights. I did not feel calm or peaceful. In one of those dreams, I ran into the cemetery at night — like a character from my novel, Retrum — to get him out because it seemed to me that he felt very lonely there.
Now I know I felt guilty. In that last month, my father did not have the tools to speak to me as one does with a son, so we couldn’t say goodbye properly. He was a man of sickly shyness. But I did have those tools. I had been working as an editor and journalist in psychology and spirituality for ten years; I should have walked over to his bed, held his hand, and engaged in that conversation with love. I didn’t do it, and I regret it. I failed in the sacred mission of accompanying him to death.
All I can do now is suggest that anyone with parents do everything they can to keep the bond. Even if the parents don’t know how to express it, they need it, and so do we. Better or worse, our parents did their part. The children should also do their part to have peace of heart, especially when they are gone.
Have a nice week,