Humans > Family

The one road trip I never wanted to take

Please spend time with your loved ones this holiday

This would normally be a beautiful sight, but the circumstances were different. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Sparkling sunshine illuminates the Bavarian landscape and gently dissolves the remaining morning fog from the lush green fields I am passing at a pace of 60m per second. In the distance, the majestic Bavarian alps slowly appear. The autobahn I am flying along as fast as my BMW rental will possibly go is stone dry, traffic is light, and never in my 45 years on earth have I seen this place look so absolutely postcard beautiful.

You couldn’t create a more perfect driving moment if you tried, yet I would rather be anywhere else than here. I don’t even know why I am rushing. My mission has already failed.

There are some things that aren't worth putting off in life. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The mission? To see my dad one last time before he died. It came to a crushing end in the departure lounge of London Gatwick Airport only a few hours earlier. The only person I can blame for its failure is myself, and the only lesson I can pass on is not to be like me.

I knew this moment was coming for a few days. Arrogantly, I thought death would take note of my busy schedule and wait. Turns out the grim reaper doesn’t care much about city council meetings or other reasons not to jump on a plane straight away when your family phones you up and tells you that the moment is near.

I could have made it in time to be there, by his side, to speak to him, hold his hand and kiss him one last time before he headed off to wherever it is we are going when the lights go out. I should have made it. I didn’t.

Take the time this Christmas to visit your relatives, whether they are in a nursing home or elsewhere. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Christmas is upon us again, and with it arrives the time when families traditionally come together, even if they are far apart during the rest of the year. In our busy and fast-paced times, we often put off calling loved ones or looking after those closest to us. “I’ll do it later,” we tell ourselves. Later often turns into tomorrow, next week, next month, and sometimes never.

Never because you keep forgetting. Never because you keep pushing off. And if you wait too long, never because La Muerte will arrive before you. That feeling is not one you ever want to experience. I’m telling myself that I will be okay, and that I won’t be haunted by my failure for the rest of my life, but I know that’s not true. There are no second chances to get this right, no reset buttons to press and try again. This experience has been burned into my brain with the force of a thousand suns, and it will stay there until my own light goes out.

If you have spare time, do not hesitate to drop everything to visit your family this Christmas season. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Learn from my failure so you never have to take this kind of road trip yourself. So whoever the person you have to say goodbye to can still hear you, see you, feel you. So you don’t have to share the room with the cold presence of death while you ask for forgiveness. So eternal silence doesn’t fill your ears while you tell him how much you love him, and how much you wish you had told him that more often.

So you get to experience a gentle living sunset instead of a cold, dead night. When I got that phone call at the airport, I was surrounded by thousands of people, yet I had never felt more lonely. More lost. More helpless. In an instant, the world turned into a tearful blur without sense or meaning.

This Christmas, when you ask yourself if you should make that journey home, don’t think. Just go. No matter if the trip takes minutes, hours, or even days. No matter if you get on well with your relatives or if there will be tension at the table. Embrace every second of it.

Hug life as hard as you can, and store every precious memory for later. You will need them. Enjoy every second of being in the presence of their lives, because you won’t enjoy being there when life has left them. And most important of all: Tell them you love them.

I wish I had.

Merry Christmas.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.