The Empty Space I Don’t Want to Fill

Just over a month ago, my dad died.

It was a blessing – something he was praying for – he’d figured out how he wanted it to go and was doing his best to surrender to the process, as challenging as it was.

He was a very old man.

And still he thought it would be good to make it to his 94th birthday, and then he would have “really done something.”  As if all the moments leading up to that weren’t something.

My heart.

He was so quiet, an introvert who loved silence and space, but who also loved company for short periods, and to be touched – specifically, he loved foot rubs.

He also loved music – some music – Glenn Miller and tunes of that era. Every Saturday at 7 pm was his magic time for The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS. He loved all the dancing, the beautiful women and their beautiful hair and outfits.

Saturday at 7 pm was his time, except for 5 pm daily – which was his Tipple Time – a shot of scotch and a few nuts to go with it – a ritual that brought pleasure and structure – something to look forward to every day. I get the power of such nourishing routines.

He loved simplicity. Minimal fuss and bother preferred.

He liked order (he was a librarian afterall) and to know where the main things were: the handicapped parking pass, the church missals (one for him and one for whomever took him to mass), his sunglasses, the house and mail keys, and the garage door opener and a handle to make getting in and out of vehicles easier. All these things were always in place, ready to go for any excursion.

He loved to grow things. He was an excellent gardener – he loved growing hot peppers to add to spaghetti sauce and he grew exquisite roses when my parents lived on Vancouver Island. He was an expert at all of it, and while we teased him mercilessly about cooking compost on the barbecue, he knew what he was doing.

He loved to make things in his retirement – he baked bread (with help in later years), he made scarves and toques of all kinds with his looping thing, he hooked rugs of all sizes, and polished rocks with a special machine designed for the purpose. Who knew there were such things? His entire community was blessed with his creative output. We were always hoping there’d be a loaf of bread for us.

Given he was so quiet, you might be surprised by the impact he made on the lives of many.

I was just looking at the cards and notes from many of the people in his church parish who wrote to let us know how much he meant to them, especially as a reader at mass, He taught a few others to do the same, properly. They saw his kindness, his sweetness, his humour, his appreciation. He was their favorite at the care home because he was always grateful for all the work people did on his behalf.

He was humble. He was stoic.

This is the thing about children of war. They were taught that what they wanted didn’t matter – there was always something more pressing and important than their petty needs of the moment. And so he wasn’t one to ask for much.

It created confusion for the nurses and doctors and caregivers at the hospital because he didn’t want to complain and create more work for anyone. He would tell one of us kids and we would translate, so he could have the help he needed with his discomfort.

My heart.

I have so many memories of him in all his different phases – from his pipe-smoking to bird-watching, to bread baking, to loop knitting, to rock polishing and rug-hooking.

Oh, did I mention he loved to drive? One of his greatest points of suffering was giving up his car. He said he always knew what he was doing behind the wheel. It calmed him down and he knew who he was.

He wasn’t one for great outward displays of emotion although I never questioned his love. Though when I was little I used to think he and Mr. Spock were kind of the same guy – they had a certain physical resemblance and my dad liked facts. But Inside, he was very soft and wasn’t good at corporal punishment – the paddling was my mom’s territory.

He saw me. He saw each one of us and felt our hurts and joys as we shared them.

My heart.

I feel so empty right now and I am just in no hurry whatsoever to fill up that space.

Over the last 10 years or so, as my parents aged, the concerns of caring for them and about them grew, as it should. I had it quite easy as my brother Paul and his wife, Lori took on the main responsibilities of daily care – groceries, appointments and household matters.

As I was busy raising my son with all his quirky challenges, they continued to age and I knew they wouldn’t be with us forever, so I created a space within myself that was occupied with thoughts of them – visiting them, baking or cooking little treats for them, doing little errands and just sharing stories of the day. It wasn’t onerous. I didn’t have to work hard at it.

But it was their space and over time, the running back and forth between Calgary and Canmore was more challenging, especially as I stepped into my own work on a more full-time basis. The space in my heart and schedule grew bigger and more defined.

It was an easy decision to go and be with them, because it was who I wanted to be. Gratefully, my siblings all felt the same way, so this was shared between us all.

Now they are both gone. Now there’s this space, and I am not ready to fill it yet.

I want to be there for my clients, my family, my friends and get busy with my business – but I don’t want to crowd this space too soon. In fact, this space needs more space at the moment.

I want to honour what it means to me – and I know in time, the shape will change and I will welcome new things to fill it.

The “fitbit” in my mind keeps prompting me to get moving. I can hear my mind wondering when I will feel like doing things again.

I keep ignoring it.

There is a space for everything.

Now is the time for an empty space – not to be filled too quickly.

4 thoughts on “The Empty Space I Don’t Want to Fill”

  1. Incredible tribute , and as always, so much wisdom to share about allowing the grief journey to unfold.

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