Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ~ Henry David Thoreau
There are days when I’m drenched in sadness. When melancholy seems to seep into my being even before I’m fully awake. Grief can be like that, even seven years on.
I’ve had a restless night of very little sleep and when I roll over and finally open my eyes to the morning it is with the foggy brained headache of fatigue that I’m all too familiar with. I close my eyes and mull over the remnants of my last dream, a variation of one that keeps recurring over and over again. I wonder what it means, what my Self is trying to wake me up to.
I’m searching in the dream for the fingers of depression I feel stroking my skin, but find no answer. I reach over and unplug my BlackBerry and automatically do a cursory check of my email and suddenly I’m flooded with memory. An email from my brother with one word in the subject line, “Dad”, and I don’t even have to read it to understand why I’m filled with a sense of loss. My mind has finally caught up with what my body has already remembered.
My brother’s email reads, “Hey guys, I remember it like it was yesterday. I always will. Raise a glass with me.”
My dad was one of those dad’s who could fix anything. He was a jack-of-all trades, reinventing himself many times over, from working in radio and television, to drumming in a jazz band, to becoming a chicken farmer, but underlying every incarnation lived the heart and soul of an artist. When he became a ceramic artist, creating a collection of handcrafted dinnerware, he finally came closer to marrying his passion to live a creative life with the everyday need to earn a living.
As I’m writing this I’m drinking tea from a mug thrown and glazed by my father. I wrap my hands around the grooves that circle the outside and I imagine his hands as they crafted this mug and try hard to feel a connection; to feel my father. I do this every time I sip tea from this mug and every time I am disappointed when it feels just like every other mug in my cupboard. My father is not in the mug he made, my father is in me.
My dad visits me in my dreams sometimes. Not often. Not nearly enough and never, ever by my willful wishing. When I lost my father I lost a vital link to the stories of my childhood.
Shortly after the birth of my second daughter my father and I are driving to visit my older sister who had recently moved to Saskatchewan. My two young daughters are finally asleep in their car seats when my dad says to me, “I sometimes thought when you kids were young and life was stressful, how cool it would be to be able to meet your babies at birth, to look them in the eye and hold them and love them and then say to God – I love this baby. This one is a perfect keeper, but I’m not quite ready. And then put the baby up high on the shelf until you’re ready.”
I turn to him and am filled with an instant knowing connection. He has just put into words exactly what I sometimes feel when I’m overwhelmed with the responsibility of mothering two young souls when I’m just nicely out of my teens. And I’m suddenly struck at how young my dad was when he first became a father…and again and again times five. With a big shift my perspective has permanently changed.
As we continue to drive the ever-long, never turning prairie highway, we continue what would become regular conversations that explored our shared history. Together, throughout the years, at every visit we work and play to excavate our separate, yet conjoined truths behind almost every incident that might have seeded psychic wounds or joys. This is the greatest gift my father gives me and the greatest loss I feel in his physical absence.
It is this loss I’m feeling most acutely in the early summer, the Gemini months of my dad’s birthday in May and my own in June. My four children and I are celebrating my birthday in the first days of a rainy July, after my second daughter returns for a month long visit from Memorial University in Newfoundland. Patrick and I are meeting his twin brother Braden, and my two daughters Meghan and Kate in Meghan’s apartment before heading out for dinner.
I open the apartment door and before I take two steps inside I’m greeting with three voices stopping me in my tracks, “Close your eyes and stay there!”
I stop and close my eyes as Patrick brushes past me to join his brother and sisters in their whispered planning. They are becoming famous for their surprises and while I stand there with my hands now covering my eyes “in case I peek something inadvertently,” I’m silently thinking that nothing can top the gift of love that I’m feeling right this very minute.
But I’m wrong. At Braden’s okay I open my eyes and step fully into Meghan’s apartment. All four kids are looking at me with anxious and expectant expressions on their faces. As I walk into the room and fully see the gift my children have given me I am flooded with emotion so strong it almost drains me of the energy needed to even stand. Love and gratitude pour with a gentle strength into the hole of loss I’ve been feeling of late. Tears are the only words that flow until finally I’m able to voice one word again and again. “Wow.”
“You win,” Kate says to Meghan.
“I told her you would cry,” Meghan explains.
I can’t take my eyes off of their gift. My children have given me the gift of my father’s legacy. Propped before me are two large pictures. One is an unframed liquid graphite finger painting done in grids by my son Patrick. My dad is smiling as he guides the small hands of his two young grandsons as they work together to throw a pot on his wheel. I can see and feel the love in my father’s smile and eyes.
The second large frame holds the gifts from my other three children. Meghan has photo-shopped a picture of her grandfather working at his wheel and turned it into a Warhol like work of art. Kate has produced an incredible sketched likeness using the same photo and the two of them side by side are striking. Braden, my creative writing child, has hand-written his poem on linen and as I read the words I feel something within me begin to loosen, like a long ago rusted gear suddenly oiled and cleaned.
A deep understanding fills me with warmth as I recognize my children for the teachers that they are. I hear my father speaking through my son’s words. I don’t need to seek my father by wishing for a dream visit or by wrapping my hands around the mug he made. My father lives in my children – in all of his grandchildren.
Memory of Daniel Taylor Artist Hero Love Smile ~ Braden Daniel O'Neill So, tell me now (I beg! I plead!) What is it you remember? For your mind has moments in its caverns, With things distilled like coloured patterns. These things have wandered, seeped, and spread Into the fingers of your soul, Throughout the web within your head. And here, this man, he sits all day, He prods and pulls and folds his clay. He folds his arms, sits back at night, Content and happy. Proud. All right. This man (his body) has passed since his arrival, Reduced this world by one less laugh and smile. And he's reduced me too, by what he gave, Has swelled my shell (my soul), unending waves, Unending waves........ unending waves... He's reduced me to a smile, Which conquers canyons every year. He's reduced me to a courage, Which held my passions, quelled my fears. He's reduced me to a love, Which turns to strength when things are hardest. So he's reduced me to an artist. And I've reduced him to a hero. With his hands in yours, your eyes in mine, It's turned into something surpentine. Unfolding lives from molded clay, That wheel he spun still spins today. He holds our hearts and sits in minds, He folds our waves in patterned caverns. He's made his glaze to shine through time.
Every mortal loss is an immortal gain.
The ruins of time build mansions in eternity. ~ William Blake