Reflections on my father

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“selective focus photography of orange leaves” by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Autumn is a time of decrease and the dying of the light but it is also a season of stillness and completion. Of all the seasons, it is the most complex because it draws to a close the impulse of spring and the fullness of summer. In autumn, we are given an intimate portrait of nature itself as it yields to the shortening of the days and a sun that shines but does not warm.

Walking in the forest at this time of the year is like entering a church. The silence is three-dimensional, only broken on occasion by a crow’s caw or the beat of a jay’s wing. Watching the soundless descent of Birch leaves like bright yellow stamps that follow an invisible path to the ground is itself a study in meditation.

It was on one such day this October that my father died. Living abroad all these years meant that I could not be with him in his final weeks and days. But in many ways, all the years that I have visited him and left again, I had learned to say goodbye, increasingly aware that each time may be the last farewell. I think he himself knew this — what were often leave-takings tinged with the sadness of separation in space and time yielded to a common acceptance of that which is and cannot be changed.

I became an observer to his decline and slow descent into absence, frustrated by conversations when we met that became more ritual than filled with meaning. The truth is that he was of that generation of men who defined themselves through their work, and for whom, without a plan, retirement becomes a form of incarceration. And in that incarceration, my father also allowed his body to lapse into stillness and debility.

It’s frustrating to see someone whom you love and who you have essentially observed all your life wilfully lose agency at a time when they can be most free to express themselves as a human being. He would often speak of a life as ‘the burden of living’ — a phrase he learnt from his own father. Unfortunately, he relinquished the burden long before he died. Perhaps, he was depressed and lacked the means to express that to himself and to others? I suspect so.

But he was also stubborn and would not be told, even when it was for his own good. This was his failing.

But I don’t want to dwell on the father that I lost. Instead I want to celebrate those aspects of him that were great and good when he was truly alive and which remain in my heart as his son. His resourcefulness, practical approach to life, his generosity of spirit, duty to family and his abiding love of animals are all things I reflect upon when I think of him.

In my last moment with him at the hospital chapel, I placed my hand on his chest as I did when I left him when he was alive. Looking upon his body, I understood that death is personal but it is also universal. In its stillness and completion, like autumn, it reveals its eternal beauty.

Illuminating the dark corners of my mind with thoughts and words.

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