In today's blog, Douglas takes us back to another one of his memories, a story of the loss his father experienced of a horse.
The last time I wrote about my father and his memory of horses in his life I mentioned how my memory of my father’s recollections differed so greatly from that of my sister. In my recollection, my Grandmother bundled my father and his siblings up in warm blankets, snuggled in on some great, fun, likely red, sleigh; the full moon overhead, crisp air, the breath of horses hanging in it visible for all to see. The two horses then pulled the sleigh over pristine snow. A family and its horses united in purpose, grounded in the task at hand. The ground frozen, the hearts of the children cheered.
Yet my sister remembers my father’s recollection about this night entirely differently. In her version of my father’s story about this night, there was nothing cheerful about it at all. This because the family’s horse passed away on this night. My sister remembers that my father’s voice would be shaken even in just the recounting of the events so many years in the past.
The mind is a fascinating entity...What it remembers, what it chooses to forget, what it hides from itself in order to protect itself.
It fascinates me that my sister does not remember the story that I recall my father telling us. It fascinates me more that I don’t remember the story as she remembers it. The mind is a fascinating entity, isn’t it? What it remembers, what it chooses to forget, what it hides from itself in order to protect itself. It would seem that the death of my Grandfather’s horse was a story my mind decided it simply did not want to hear.
The idea of my father being shaken at the passing of his horse is itself a little foreign to me, too. He was not a man given to sentimentality usually. This is not to say that he did not feel things or reveal them. Although what I remember him revealing most, I suppose, was a stubborn anger.
There is another, short, relevant story that my father told me of. It was of my Father’s brother, who, as a young boy, cried profusely at the death of my Grandfather’s horse, unable to accept that the horse was gone, without hope of seeing another day. Maybe the two stories are of the same horse. I can’t know for sure.
We fear that pausing to reflect on the loss will only result in our exposing ourselves to still further hurt. We are blindsided by a loss, even if we saw it coming.
We don’t always allow ourselves to reflect deeply on our loses. We are at times in too much of a hurry to move on with fulfilling our obligations, knowing that we have promises to keep, as Robert Frost would put it. We feel too rushed in life to take the time to reflect upon the emptiness that remains behind the passing of a loved person or animal. It is as though we fear that pausing to reflect on the loss will only result in our exposing ourselves to still further hurt. We are blindsided by a loss, even if we saw it coming. The world is turned on its head and ceases to be the predictable, safe place we had previously thought it to be. When my mother died suddenly, unexpectedly, years ago, my sister and I were too busy looking after my ill father in the weeks and months and year that followed, to adequately allow ourselves to grieve her. He died at the end of that year. Life pulls you along perhaps, making you leave what you cannot save, like a strong wind at a grave side pulling you away from the moment, the place, of utter devastation. It makes you understand that we need to find the right balance. We need to grieve, but we also need to let go and move on. It is not always an easy balance to achieve.
We choose places to keep memories...
We can keep a person or a pet close in our mind by the wilful act of remembering. We choose places to keep memories. They become sacred to us. Perhaps places where we were together, places where the person worked, sat, walked or played. We honour our loved ones this way, and by consigning places and moments of remembering we are enabled to honour them and our love for them while at the same time continuing on our own journey of looking after well our loved ones who journey with us.
Holding on; letting go. We need both, however difficult it might be, if we are to navigate the ocean of loss.
The holiday season just ahead of us is, for some of us, an especially difficult time to confront absence. It consists in the difficult contradiction between our expectation of joy on the one hand, and the reality of the change from what once was, on the other. We need to find ways to keep our absent loved ones close in moments such as these. We need to focus on the values that they stood for, the kindnesses that they showed, the small gestures of love and caring that they demonstrated. We need, in order to honour them and their memory, to give them a place in the moments of our lives, perhaps a special place where we hold them close for a moment, before returning to our promises and our loved ones who remain with us in the present. Knowing that they loved us means not only that we know that they would cherish our remembering them, but also knowing that they would recognize the need of our having to let go, of our having to carry on, so that we can attend with presence of mind and warmth of heart to the myriad of promises that need keeping still in the present moment. Holding on; letting go. We need both, however difficult it might be, if we are to navigate the ocean of loss.
All Rights Reserved © 2018
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.