All of us will experience loss during the course of our lives, but the death of a parent, a father, comes with an especially keen edge that makes a ragged cut. And that cut is slow to heal.
I lost my Dad recently – a little more than ten days ago - and it was a hard shot to take. My Dad was ill, and had been for some time, so I knew this was coming, but the knowledge of the inevitable end provided no armour against the wound of his loss. I was at the foot of his bed when he passed and talked to him through his end, although he was well beyond hearing anything I had to say at that point. Those last few moments, as important as they were, were not vital to the heart of our relationship; I’d said everything I really needed my Dad to know long before the day of his death, and there was nothing left to do but love him as he died.
The days that followed were a blur of activity, filled with the familial tasks necessary upon a person’s death, but I never had a real breakdown until it came time to write my father’s obituary.
Don’t get me wrong, this was not a burden that was shovelled on me. It was something that I wanted to do, that I volunteered for. I wanted to use my craft to honor my Dad, and notify the rest of the world of his passing the very best that I could.
But when it came time to do the job, I found that I’d run out of words.
I sat down and started to write a couple of times, but always failed halfway through the first line. I got to, “It is with deep loss,” and then stalled. I found when I tried to employ my craft to honour my Dad was when I felt his loss most keenly. He had been such a big part of my development as a writer, and had been so supportive of my pursuit of a writing career (as long as I still had a day-job to feed myself), that it broke my heart to think I might fall short and screw up his memory.
How was I going to tell the world how I felt about my Dad? I wondered as I stared, first at a blank computer screen, then at a blank piece of paper, the again at the cruelly blinking cursor. How was I possibly going to explain the love I had for him, and the way his loss affected me and my family, in the short lines of a newspaper obituary? I wracked my brain for several days, continually putting off the job until my wife gently reminded me that the piece had to be done so it could be to the newspaper office on time. I said I would get it done that night, and then pounded away at the inside of my head trying to figure out what I was going to say.
During my pacing and my worrying, I found myself staring at the titles lining the bookshelf in my parent’s basement. My Mum and Dad both were fans of Jack Whyte, long before I came to know him, and receive a large part of my writing education from him, through the Surrey Writer’s Conference. As I stared at the spines of Jack’s books, resting on a shelf in my father’s house, one of Jack’s lessons came back to me.
Jack had read a piece of my work and shook his head afterward. “No, Tyner,” he said. “This isn’t right. This is you talking, not the character. Sometimes you have to remember that it’s not all about you. The character has to speak with his own voice.” Anyone who knew my Dad would say that he certainly was a ‘character’, and that lesson suddenly became more important than Jack or I could have possibly known.
With Jack’s words in mind, I sat down at my Mum’s computer. I stopped thinking about myself. I stopped thinking about telling the world how I felt, because this wasn’t about me. I needed to write something about my Dad and the time for me would come later. In about ten minutes, I came up with this:
It is with deep, and heavy sadness that we announce the death of Daniel Gillies, who passed on January 29th, in Vernon Jubilee Hospital. Daniel was born in Vernon in 1948, lived there for most of his life, and spent the majority of his free time plotting a way to escape into the wilderness and roam around the woods. He was active, during his life, in the Cam Jammers car club, as well as the Vernon Camera Club and the Vernon Lapidary Club, which provided excuse and venue to wander the aforementioned woods. He is survived by his wife, Joy; his son, Tyner and daughter-in- law, Ewa; grandchildren Zoe, Samantha and Joshua; his brothers, John and Alan, and his sister, Mary. A service will be held in the spring, after the cotton-woods blow, with notice to follow. The family asks that no flowers be sent. Instead, donations can be made to your favourite charity, or the Vernon Arts Center, where Dan spent many of his latter days polishing rocks, acting as a handy-man and chatting with everyone who walked through the doors.
It was short, and simple, and spoke of my Dad. The people who knew and loved him would know the words to be true, and anyone who didn’t know him would get a snapshot of what kind of man he was.
It wasn’t until I forgot about myself, thought about my Dad and remembered my craft, that I was able to do the job that needed doing.
We are all going to have loss in our lives. We’re going to have times when we’re dealt a bad hand and be forced to play it, even though the cards suck. But if you remember the people who love you, the words of the people who care about you, and forget about yourself for a minute, I’m sure you’ll find a way to get through it.
As always, thanks for reading.