“You can only come to the morning through the shadows.” J.R.R.Tolkien
As the longest night of the year stretched out before me several nights ago, I thought about how just six months ago, less than two weeks after the summer solstice, my father passed away. After a long, devastating decline from Alzeimer’s disease he was suddenly at death’s door. There had been numerous close calls over the years so I didn’t immediately get on a plane to go see him until his death looked imminent. As I waited to board my plane in Victoria that morning, I got the call that he had died in the night.
The wall of grief that hit me was surprising in its intensity. My father had been in an advanced vegetative state for a very long time and I thought I had said my goodbyes to him. I knew his eventual passing would be a bittersweet one, but the bitter far outweighed the sweet. I was happy that his spirit would no longer be trapped in his ailing body but I resented all those wasted years after he took ill and, as I sat on the plane heading eastward, I wondered about the years before. Had he lived a happy, fulfilled life? Had he felt loved? Had he said all the things he wanted to say, done the things he wanted to do? I didn’t have the answers to these questions for my father had been a guarded, taciturn man whom I never really understood. And when he died I found myself mourning for the father I never knew and the relationship we didn’t have.
The artwork below, completed a week ago, is titled Ashes To Ashes and is dedicated to my father. The poem in it reads:
And I’m left to mourn
You who left so long ago
Ashes to ashes
One thing I did know was that this controlling, fearful figure from my childhood had matured into a gentler man, one, I realized in my adulthood, who cared for me in his reserved way. And in his passing he gave me an unexpected gift.
His death and the awful waste of the last years of his life made me examine my own. As I looked in my own mirror I determined not to waste the remainder of my life with inaction and indecision. I would take the steps I needed to take to bring peace and purpose back into my life.
I took those steps and found myself by the end of the year living completely on my own for the very first time in my life. My marriage was ended, my last child at home had decided to strike out on her own, my in-laws left to start anew in their old town back east, even our dog decided it was time to head for new pastures. Seeing the light go out of his eyes made me grateful for having missed seeing my father die.
So the year is ending with a loss and re-ordering of relationships. They are hard to bear but easier than the indecision that weighed down my spirit. The peace and purpose I’d hoped for still seem far away though they tickle my feet like waves along the shore. Perhaps I need to step further into the sea.