I’ve been wanting to share this for a while, but have been struggling with what was appropriate.
I wanted to wait until things were a little less fresh, to be sure that I was sharing authentically.
My Dad passed away on November 21, 2016.
It had been more or less expected. I was not by his side.
I have so much to share about him, about us.
I haven’t really talked much about our relationship. Writing about it seems to be the most appropriate way to process and share. And I know that, even though he was a relatively private person, he understood enough about why I write to get it. He wasn’t very comfortable, at first, with me sharing everything with the world, but then I wrote this, which he read, and he understood. From then on, he was one of my biggest supporters.
He would appreciate this too (and does, if he’s here in spirit, which I sure hope he is).
The last day that I spoke to him on the phone, him in Princeton, BC and me in Montreal, QC, was an oddly lovely day. The sadness had been overcoming me for days, if not weeks, but I’d walked through Mount Royal park, taking photos of warm-fluorescent-coloured leaves.
He didn’t see these photos in the end, even though he was still alive at the time. Had he seen them, I’m sure that he would have understood the depth of my delight in those moments, of just being out there, breathing and rejoicing in those colours.
On that day, there was this strange thing where, even though I knew he was going, I realized that I was happy. I was incredibly sad because I was losing him, but at the same time, I was so glad that he’d taught me the importance of seeing through the suffering in the world.
In this instance, it would have been seeing through suffering by capturing a glimpse of colour in nature. But he also taught me to see though it in different ways—not by ignoring the suffering, but by sitting with it, and still seeing into it.
He taught me what it was to just go out and see the world, to notice (and capture) the texture, the dark and the light spots, the grey tones and the colour.
Since he passed, I’ve been processing grief through a series of personal journal entries to him, things that happen in a given day that make me think about him and feel his presence.
I’ve decided to share them, starting today, three months later.
I had a great day today. I spoke with a lovely and supportive friend, one of the people who was instrumental in me sharing my writing.
During the afternoon, I took a 25 bus from Nanaimo station to the UBC loop. The fellow driving the 25 on the way over was speaking Chinese (Cantonese?) to an older Asian woman who had apparently gotten on the wrong bus. I appreciated how he was able to communicate to her.
You would have appreciated that too, I think.
I remember how you told me stories about driving the older generations of women coming to Chinatown to do their shopping in the evenings, how that would be their thing. That’s just what they’d do, every weekend, early in the mornings, they’d pile on your bus and you’d drop them off in Chinatown where they’d buy authentic ingredients to cook for their families on the weekends.
How amazing was that, that you got to carry a piece of this culture, of so many backgrounds and cultures, every day? Your eyes were open.
That’s one of the many things I loved about you, Dad. Your eyes were open. You didn’t judge, you just observed. I’m sure you judged, at times—we all do. But what you shared with me was about observing, about learning, about tolerance.
Back to the trail. Even before I actually hit the trees, I felt immediately at ease in the fresh air, in the way that the afternoon held the quiet, despite the construction and traffic noises. I walked north towards the ocean, then took a right along the trail above the shoreline.
I’d spent so much time on the beaches below in the past—Acadia, Spanish Banks, Locarno—-I was surprised I hadn’t walked this trail before.
How could I have missed it?
As I walked, I noticed striking contrasts—you’d know the type, how the sunlight would quickly sink away from the west side of the city on a winter afternoon. When I finally got down to the beach, after having found the quintessential wide-step wooden staircase created so that we could wind our way down the steep earthy banks, I saw the most spectacular sunset reflected on the low tide. Then I immediately regretted not keeping the camera you and Mom had given me. I’d given it back because it was bulky.
It had seemed excessive in the midst of my minimizing.
Just today, (and not for the first time), I was captured by the way the tide-cloud-sky patterns created a particular kind of picture on that specific stretch of beach. I looked at the water, at the spectacular moments around me then, and I got it. I got why you wanted to give me that camera. It was so that I could share what I saw even more clearly than I could with any phone camera.
I knew this before, but I just felt it so clearly at that moment. I hadn’t felt clear like this since a day in Montreal watching cormorants by the St. Lawrence, and then the day with the bright leaves in the park. Both times I felt you and what you brought me, how you always encouraged me and supported me in following my purpose and passions. I felt a certain type of clarity and joy that I rarely have before.
The only reason I even learned how to see that in the first place was through you.
So tonight I was doing dishes when I got home. I put on Buddy Holly and I thought of how two of the last really lovely in-person moments that we would have had together, just us, had to do with music.
One was when we were at the Sylvia and I played you a cover album of Buddy Holly hits. We talked about the cover songs…you weren’t sure about some of them (neither was I!) but the point was that we listened together to this new/old iconic set of songs. The original album would shape your generation in a big way, and it would also shape us in a very personal way.
The other moment was when I was driving (you were giving me a refresher course, 20-something years after you had originally taught me to drive well), and you sat beside me in the passenger seat of “Raven,” (the car), shrunken and pale and frail, the way you’d been getting for the past couple of years. It was disconcerting, of course, to those around you, but it was the course of life. You were a little sick, but not terribly sick, as it were, at that time, and you were with us, which was such a gift. And then, even when you were frail, there was this certain spark of life that I saw inside of you, those last few times, despite your discomfort and general malaise. I know it got worse, and I wasn’t there, and maybe I was selfish staying away, I’m not sure.
So there we were, driving along the highway in the Okanagan, singing tunes in your car, the way we had a million times before: Buddy Holly, Elvis. These same albums you’d had in the car since forever. You knew the words, I knew the words, and we’d sing gently together, gliding along the soft sunny curves in the road.
Those were the best kinds of moments that stood out: quiet and simple and easy.
Music might seen a trite type of connection for some people, but it means the most to me. through music and nature, my Dad made me understand something unexplainable but deep about himself, his life, and the world around us.
And what a part of history he experienced: Hot rodding around Montreal and bopping over to Ottawa to see Elvis in ’57…no big deal (!!).
This doesn’t just stick with me; it’s a big part of who I am, because it was part of him too.
I tell my blues
They mustn’t show
But soon these tears
are bound to flow
(’cause it’s raining
raining in my heart).
~ Buddy Holly
I love you, Dad.