Absence and Presence

I was thinking of my father the other day when I couldn't speak and was trying to get someone's attention. Just around the time I was born, he had something going on with his vocal cords (nodules?), had an operation and was never able to yell after that. When he was in another area of the house from us or in the garden and needed something, he would whistle. The dogs never came running, because they knew theirs was a different whistle, but every now and again, I did feel a bit canine.

My father was fond of saying that Canadians were lunatics, especially during the period of transition between winter and spring. Sometime in March, when the temperatures are barely above freezing, you'll see some guy walking around in shorts. Far would shake his head and so would we, because we were still wearing sweaters, as were most sensible people. But there was always one of them, the really hardy sort, who would be walking down the street in shorts during weather where you could still see your breath. So I thought of my dad on Friday, when Michele and I bought roast beef and back bacon sandwiches in the market and found a picnic table outside, away from the wind and ate our lunch in the pale sunlight. In the last few days, when you're in the right place, you can feel the warmth of the sun for the first time since last October and it is a sure sign that spring is coming (of course, now that I've said that, we'll get a blizzard in the next couple of days).

This time of year is all tangled up in hope and anticipation of spring, of several family birthdays and the togetherness that comes with that and on the other hand, with thoughts of the past and grief, because my father had the brilliant timing of leaving us on St. Patrick's Day seven years ago. Even at the time it made us laugh, because my father was true to himself to the very end and chose to die on the biggest party day in North America. He went out with a bang.

Grief is a funny thing. It waxes and wanes, sloshing about in the background, then every now and again sending in a rogue wave that drenches you through, leaving you soggy and needing a good cry. This year, the missing him is gentler, less raw, but still, the memories of seven years ago have been alive and well for the last month or so. Memories of sitting by his bed and talking him over, memories of people who were in my life at that time, but are no longer and most of all, I feel the absence of his presence very keenly.

But he is part of my life every day. At least once a day, I look at his picture and nod a mental hello. We often remember something he used to do and talk about him, usually a story that makes us laugh (and there were many of those). I have seen him in my sister's children, sometimes in a way they move or there'll be a sparkle in their eyes, promising mischief and laughter that recalls him perfectly. And then there are the times where I feel his presence here so strongly that I'm sure he's dropped by to check up on us. And that's what has surprised me about this. Not that the grief has taken so many forms and stuck around for this long, but how very much a part of our lives he still is, how alive he still is. It's surprising, but beyond lovely.

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