What if …..?
What ifs are a part of life: What if a relationship had gone differently? What if another career path had been taken? What if a missing loved one had come home from war?
My family recently moved our mom into long term care. Many folks go through this heartbreaking life change. As we help Mom struggle down this final path – fighting to regain balance that had once been so graceful; straining to distinguish between present and past realities, imagined fears and anxieties - my missing father will come to mind. He is still the youthful, strong, vital man from scalloped edged photos, looking on from somewhere undefined. He is surely pleased to see his children caring for his wife, filling the shoes he once assumed would be his own.
What if he had come home, a father who went on to have a past that went beyond twenty-six years old; a man who reached into his own old age? Like with my mother, we would be catching hold of him when his equilibrium failed, indulging his puzzling dance with realities that seem real but he knows are not.
Maybe he is doing this somewhere else, alone, or with someone at his side. Probably not, but you never know. That’s an issue itself.
Either way, this is another phase of life we missed sharing with loved ones who remain missing-in-action. They have become extraordinary through their unknown losses, superheroes who never lived through the everyday challenges that come with a full lifetime, including the indignities of old age, a normal sunset to a lengthy life.
What if he had come home? We would love to slip him in beside my mother, frail, forgetful, dependent; and do so with appreciation of how special it would be that he was there, fulfilling an end we never will share.
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Rick Downes is President of the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs. Rick's father, Lt. Hal Downes, went missing-in-action in North Korea, January 13, 1952. Hal was 26 years old. Rick was three.