A British journalist and nonfiction writer’s account of how he came to uneasy terms with the accidental death of his 14-year-old son.
When Harding (The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History, 2016, etc.) lost his son, Kadian, on a cycling trip, the irony seemed too cruel. Twenty-five years before, he had met his wife and Kadian’s mother while doing a charity bike ride across the United States. A dedicated journalist “too busy to be a father…too irresponsible,” he had not wanted children; but when Kadian and, later, a younger daughter were born, he fell “totally in love.” Harding remembers the death and too-brief life of his son, a “Prince Charming” of a boy who loved lizards, bicycles, and Apple electronics. He also offers a stark portrait of his own anguish. Time—along with the contented life he knew—seemed to end the moment his son died. Trying to make sense of the tragedy, Harding moves between past and present, joy and sorrow, to create a sense of the traumatic inner fracturing he experienced. Guilt further compounded his grief. Not only did he feel anger at his inability to shepherd his daughter and wife through loss. He also wrestled with the overwhelming sense that, in his role as family protector, he was to blame for his son’s death. Bewildered and struggling to cope with PTSD, Harding searched for and found a word—kampu—used by a group of Australian Aborigines to describe the parent of a dead child. Sympathy from those around him as well as the work of memorializing Kadian helped gradually assuage the author’s pain. Yet Harding realized a new truth—that his purpose would be “forever questioned, in doubt”—had come to define his “imperfect” life as a kampu. Both eloquent and heart-rending, Harding’s book is not only a grieving father’s testament of love to his dead son. It is also a reminder of the fragility of life and human relationships.
An emotionally raw and uncompromising memoir.