For You, and For the Boy That I Was

little boy in shorts on a patio with his mother in her swimsuit

The author and his mother, late 1980s

I was so angry when my mom died. Not for my own loss, as difficult as that was to process, but because I felt like she’d been ripped off. I’d watched her health deteriorate over the course of what seemed like my entire life, to the point that in her final years even getting around her apartment became a challenge. To make matters worse, her already impaired hearing was in sharp decline, making verbal communication almost impossible, especially during her last weeks in hospital.

I had so many unanswered questions when the moment came to say goodbye. Was she scared? Was she in pain? Was she relieved it would all be over soon? I agonized over her state of mind and could only imagine her isolation at being trapped in a rapidly failing body with almost no means of expression. It didn’t seem like a fair exit for someone who’d survived an abusive marriage and struggled to raise two children on her own.

Photo of Ben and Jake Sisko

As chance would have it, my mom died while I was in the middle of revisiting Deep Space Nine, which remains far and away my favourite Star Trek series. Shortly after her death I watched the fourth season standout “The Visitor,” a deeply moving story about the bond between Captain Benjamin Sisko and his son Jake.

While the episode’s father-son dynamic never really connected with me, given that I don’t enjoy that kind of relationship with my dad, I found myself gravitating to one of the key themes: grief’s potentially all-consuming and destructive force. Seeing this recurring message play out in “The Visitor” helped spur my resolve to not only pick up the pieces of my life and rebuild in the wake of my mom’s death, but also realize that doing so was the best way of honouring her memory.

Aging Jake Sisko

The episode opens with an aging Jake Sisko being visited by an aspiring young writer. During the course of her visit, Jake explains that the loss of his dad is why he stopped writing after releasing two books many years prior. “The Visitor” is told as an almost lifelong reminisce from Jake’s perspective, beginning with the sudden disappearance of his dad after being struck by a warp core discharge aboard the USS Defiant.

Sisko is hit with an energy discharge.

While it’s initially assumed that Ben simply died in the accident, Jake starts experiencing visions where he can briefly see and interact with his dad. Jake manages to bring his dad to the infirmary, where it’s discovered that the accident trapped Ben in a temporal inversion, causing him to shift in and out of normal spacetime. Unlike his son, Ben doesn’t age or experience the passage of time between these reappearances, which always occur in close proximity to Jake.

The trauma of losing his dad before his eyes and increasing fixation with restoring his existence in normal spacetime become an obsession for Jake, one that ultimately sabotages his career as a writer, as well as his relationships with those closest to him. For me, this unfolding tragedy of Jake’s grief and inability to move on with his life as “The Visitor” progresses served as a warning not to follow in his footsteps.

For a while he makes some progress in building a life of his own, marrying a Bajoran woman named Korena and publishing two successful books, yet he soon abandons writing to study subspace mechanics in the hope of permanently rescuing his dad from the temporal inversion.

Jake’s wife, Korena

Much to his dad’s horror, Jake’s obsession erodes his marriage and career, leaving him an isolated man driven almost solely by grief. Rather than learn of his son’s creative and family life blossoming in his absence, Ben witnesses Jake’s inner turmoil destroy his happiness and alienate him from those around him. He pleads with Jake to follow his own path and not sacrifice the future on his behalf.

This emotionally charged scene where Ben begs his son to get on with his life before it’s too late hit home for me in a big way after my mom’s death. I imagined her in place of Ben Sisko, watching a child paralyzed with grief and struggling to move forward. Though they were difficult to watch, these moments from “The Visitor” inspired me to start planning my own future and gave me the clarity that this was precisely what my mom would’ve wanted.

Ben and Jake begin their second chance.

Of course, if you’ve already seen “The Visitor” you know the episode doesn’t end with some moment of catharsis where Jake makes peace with the loss of his dad. Instead he determines that the only way of restoring his dad’s presence in normal spacetime is to die in his presence, thereby returning them both to the moment of the accident aboard the Defiant.

It’s a heartbreaking scene, and easily one of the most emotionally gripping acts in all of Star Trek. The aged Jake awakens while his dad lovingly looks on. Ben is awash with pride in seeing that his son finally returning to writing until Jake reveals that he’s planned his death around this moment, hoping to save his dad from the temporal inversion and reunite them in the past.

“You could still have so many years left,” urges Ben, but Jake ignores these pleas, telling his dad, “We have to be together when I die.” He tries to explain the necessity of his death and reassure his dad that his plan will grant them a second chance. When Ben tries in vain to tell his son, “you didn’t need to do this, not for me,” Jake insists he did, “for you, and for the boy that I was,” letting his dad know just how deeply his absence was felt.

As Jake dies in his arms, Ben is transported back aboard the Defiant with the knowledge of how to avoid the accident. The younger Jake marvels at his dad dodging the energy discharge, asking him how he knew it was coming. “I guess we were just lucky this time,” says Ben, who finds himself overcome with emotion knowing Jake’s pains to bring them back together, and that his son will now be spared the trauma of losing his dad.

Although it’s a powerful moment in a story already full of them, the episode’s happy ending doesn’t exactly mirror real life. Children don’t get a second chance after losing a parent. Despite Ben’s relief in reuniting with Jake, surely a part of him was still wounded after witnessing his son’s struggle to lead a fulfilling life without him. This was the message I took away from “The Visitor.” Grief took enough away from me in my mom’s final moments and in the aftermath of her death. I wouldn’t let it destroy my future. I know she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. With enough time I would recover and move my best foot forward, for her, and for the boy that I was.

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