|Photo by Will Rose, Orcas Island, WA. Nov. 2011|
My father Dave passed away in September at age 95. After his diagnosis with cancer, when we knew his life would last only weeks, our family drew closely together. As the end approached, time compressed. We did many things for the last time with Dave: watching family slides, singing songs, saying grace at table, listening to an old joke. And then he was gone.
Grief remained as an unseen guest, and followed me as I took much-needed leave from my teaching job and rented a small cabin on Orcas Island, alone, hoping to do some writing. Much of the time I ached with depression and sorrow, sleeping, reading, staring at waves lapping a pebbly beach. Grief peopled my solitude, crowding into silent caverns of my heart, holding up memories and mirrors, demanding contemplation. My retreat was a time of convalescence on an island of sorrow.
Eventually I got to some writing, but soon it was time to leave. I wondered if I had wasted my time, mooning around and feeling sorry for myself rather than sticking to my writing goals. As I ferried homeward across the water to the mainland, grief fell behind, somehow rooted to that island shore.
In the following weeks, life gradually shifted to a new "normal." I went back to my teaching with revived enthusiasm, and stayed in close touch with my mother and siblings and other family members. We have comforted and counseled one another as we move on with our lives. Friends, too, have helped in countless ways.
So has my muse. My writing work has had a renaissance. Fitting it in among other commitments, I've been taking risks, trying out new ideas and letting others go, revising and slimming down the manuscript. The novel, and I, are gaining clarity. As a teacher, too, I'm back on my game, learning from the ever-changing challenges of the classroom, which is another kind of mirror. Work and play and family and day-to-day life have achieved a new equilibrium. Perhaps my retreat served a purpose after all.
As Christmas approaches, another milestone "After Dave," I look back with gratitude at that island with its stony shore. Loss lies heavily on a human heart, but time bathes the pain with ever-moving tides and currents. Lightness returns, and as the stone rolls away, new life does spring forth.
|My sisters Debbie (left) and Betsy (right) and me with our dad, Dave, days before he passed away.|