I find I sometimes struggle to get connected to the message of Remembrance Day with my busy life and pampered every day existence. So every year I close my eyes and imagine what it would feel like to watch my oldest son walk into the face of a war, his still little boy face visible, his emerging bravado trying to anticipate what is to come with no context except the wrestling matches he has had with his younger brother. An ill fitting uniform on his lanky frame that still requires many more years to fill it in. I visualize this in my mind coupled with the uncertainty of his fate and the enormity of the sacrifice is swift and crushing.
Remembrance hardly seems to be enough and yet it is the gift we’ve all been given.
Isn’t he handsome? That’s my Dad. He was in his 20s, before he met my mom. My mom says she was always so proud to have him on her arm. She knew he was an attractive man, knew other woman talked about what a catch he was. It made her feel special.
A picture never tells the whole story, but I wish it did. I have started telling this story about my parents almost 18 years after he died now. I love the look on people’s faces when I show them and they recognize that my little brother looks exactly like him in this picture. I love how they always comment how the apple must not have fallen far from the tree – cue my love of a good time. And I love most of all that no matter what happened after this picture, there was this moment in time that someone clearly thought enough of to snap a shot and he is so perfect in this picture that I am happy just gazing upon it. So I guess that makes it a Happy Father’s Day for me everyday.
The story doesn’t end well. No good story does. There was a time I would have started this story by telling you the biggest thing I remember about my Dad’s life was his death – he died by suicide November 11, 1996. I would be lying if I told you that doesn’t make me suck in my breath a little even all this time later. But even better, is how seeing this picture makes me suck my breath in now too, the sheer beauty and innocence of it. The other part of the story. We choose the stories we tell. We choose how we live them too. Grief does not elude me, it simply reminds me that I am still alive. It’s softer now, more bitter sweet than bitter and devastating. I don’t even know when that happened. It reminds me of one of my favourite passages about grief:
“Grief is a peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply not shut of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; one day we wonder what has become of it” – Arthur Golden
I am learning to tell new stories about my Dad and about our experiences together that make me shiver much less. My Dad used to call me his Little Mustard Seed. To this day, I have no idea why but I know that in giving me that nick name, it made me feel special, just like my Mom. And so I have finally started and ended a story about my Dad that doesn’t leave me in the freezing cold of a window that just won’t shut.
I know not everyone has a Dad today, some people like my best friend, have never known their Dad so I find it hard sometimes to just toss out Happy Father’s Day. So I will say instead, blessings to all of you that have loved, lost, lamented a Dad. You are in good company. I hope I get to hear your story one day too.