(An earlier draft of this post was available to Patreon supporters.)
Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, and it was also three weeks since my dad died.
It was a hard day. It has been a hard three weeks. It was a hard stretch before that. It has been a long night, and the night is not over. But the light returns. I know that the light returns. I know that even in the darkest night and the deepest gloom, there is light.
The stars exist. And some of the stars that light our night skies are many centuries dead – still, they glow. Legacies of light, a physics of remembrance. I think that there is something like this in grief, too. A way of light continuing.
And there are fireflies and other bioluminescent plants and animals. Lights in deep gloom. In the further depths of dark ocean, in the forests, in the wide open spaces that can feel like endless empty. There is something like this in grief, too.
There is always light, somewhere. There is always light returning eventually. Sometimes it just takes time to travel to us, for us to travel to the light, for us to find a way to glow, for the small and precious glowing thing to show itself. The long dark is hard, but it is not forever.
I’ve been reflecting on the legacies that my dad left me, the legacies that I want to continue.
I wrote to my friend about the memories of my youth and my feelings about my dad. Hugh said that, in reading my letter about my dad, they could see that he gave me “part of the thing we need most in this world: a sense of urgent justice.”
And this is true. When I think about what my dad gave me, and what I cherish most in myself, it is that sense of urgent justice.
This urgent justice was, in its best and most cherished expression, justice tied to love. Justice tied to acceptance. Justice tied to empathy. Justice tied to an awareness of power and privilege, and an intentional choice to side with the marginalized.
I saw my dad express this justice tied to empathy and awareness of power many times in my life. Those stories have been close to me these last few weeks, surfacing again and again. Luminescent.
In the week after his death, when I was updating An Invitation to Celebrate to include him, and to invite people to celebrate the life of a loved one, I wrote –
“He taught me to always watch for the hurting people and to connect with and care for them. That’s still how I live my life, and it’s my favourite thing about myself. It comes from my dad.”
This is justice.
This is the urgency of justice – to watch for the people who are hurting, to connect with them and to care for them. Justice and love are tied together, braided into a strong triple-strand with the hope that justice and love can light the path to something better, something more possible.
My small Solstice ritual included writing my dad a letter – the first letter I’ve been able to write him since he died. I told him that I love him, that I will not forget him, that he was good and worthy and that I will hold onto many of the things he taught me. I named the threads I will hold onto:
- a sense of urgent justice
- a deep appreciation for the power of good story
- a commitment to compassion and acceptance
These are some of the lights my dad offered me. Lights that are still in my sky.
And every light casts a shadow, so along with these lights I acknowledge failures and complexities. Actions that align with injustice, stories that cause harm, cruelty and rejection instead of compassion and acceptance. These shadows were present in my own life, and in my dad’s life and in our relationship, but they do not cancel out the light. Part of how I will honour my dad is by holding the light, and not denying the shadow.
What those failures and ruptures and omissions, those shadows, offer is the invitation to return to alignment with values of justice, good story, compassion, acceptance.
Fail, and return.
Fail, and choose to come back.
Fail, and then breathe, cry, grapple with guilt and shame, and return again, again, again.
I did not include this in my letter, but it is also true that another legacy I will carry forward from my dad is a deep value of connection. In this, too, we both failed and returned, failed and returned.
I wrote this two weeks ago –
One week since dad stepped out of this story and into another.
I woke up at 4:30. I set an alarm. I didn’t want to sleep through it, to sleep through the slipping from the first week to the second week, to sleep through marking and remembering those ten minutes between when Domini woke me up and when dad slipped away.
I had a plan for the day, to get through this day. It was a pretty good plan, I think.
But I got the wind knocked out of me before I could do it, knocked off the plan, smashed hard into a wall I saw coming but still somehow didn’t expect. Maybe just didn’t expect the timing of it. Didn’t expect it this morning, like that.
I went swimming instead.
Dad and I used to swim at the same pool – Vecova. Helped my fibro, helped his pain, too. We crossed paths a few times. Not enough.
I have spent the last hour reading old emails.
‘Hello my first born, you know, I hope, that I am proud of you. I miss you.’
‘Hi dad, haven’t heard from you in a while. I miss you.’
‘Good morning, Tiffany. I sometimes feel that you and I are growing further and further apart and I do not know how to counter that.’
‘Hey Dad, how are you? I miss you. I love you!’
‘You have no idea how much I miss talking to you; working on a treasure hunt for you; and just being able to connect with you. Even though you are a fully realized adult and are demonstrably moving forward I still think of you as someone who, at one time, counted on me to help you work through some of your issues. I wish that were still the case.’
‘Hi dad, I know you’re probably busy but I thought I’d try again. How are you doing?’
We both tried so hard, for so long.
We both wanted something different.
We were both reaching and reaching and reaching and not quite getting there.
It is hard to read these emails, each of us repeatedly reaching out, somehow not able to get past the missing and find connection.
There is a deep ocean of grief in me, for what we had and have lost, for what we wanted and were not able to find, for what was painful between us, for what was precious between us.
It is a very hard day, today.
Despite how hard it was, we kept trying. We valued connection – we both valued connection with each other – enough to keep trying. To keep coming back.
And I will carry that with me, the knowledge that continuing to try holds value, and that even when it isn’t perfect, it is good and worthy.
I lit four candles for the Solstice.
A black candle for the grief, the loss, the long dark.
A green candle for justice, and for the growth that comes from aligning with justice.
A red candle for love and compassion and empathy and acceptance, the sparks that tell justice where to focus, how to grow.
A white candle for hope and renewal, for the willingness to fail and come back, for the light that we can turn to, phototropic, moving towards what is good and life-giving.
I put the letter to my dad in the center.
I let the light flicker into the long night.
Listen to Shelby Merry’s When The Night Is Long