I’m a fan of the comic strip Lio — the one with the weird little kid with the pet squid and whose antics clearly make him a descendant of the Addams Family. The strip for Christmas eve was a little different, though.
It hit home for me because the day after Christmas is my day of melancholy. It was the day after Christmas, 1993, that I got a phone call from my mother to let me know that Dad had died, unexpectedly, suddenly, quietly. It’s a memory that colors my holiday season every year, and it’s a strange thing — the grief and sadness never go away. One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we’ll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it’s not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you.
My father was cremated, and there is no location I can batten upon as a focus, no place for flowers. And strangely enough, florist shops always remind me of my father, too; he took me to a little shop when I was a teenager, and helped me pick out flowers for my first date with the lovely young lady who would several years later be my wife…and it was this same florist shop I went to almost 20 years later to pick out flowers for his funeral. So I’m reduced to this, honoring a memory with an evanescent scattering of electrons on a medium my father never knew anything about. But hey, it’s no more transient than petals on a grave, now is it?
So here’s a moment of my time dedicated to my father, James Clayton Myers, slaughterer of many fish, mountain treader, wise-cracking gruff teddy bear, the man with the heart of an artist who surrendered his hands to grit and grease and callouses to provide for a family he loved, proud romantic, digger of clams, master of automobiles, worshipful husband, child of the western forests and the high icy streams and cold Pacific waves, and good human being. I miss you and am proud to have been your son.
As an official old guy, I’ve just broken the worrisome news that you will spend your lifetime gathering losses, holding forever in your mind these memories of loved ones who are lost, and that the pain of deprivation will never go away. So why do we go on? What possible virtue can there be in a long life of ever-growing sadness? Lio again has a hint at the answer in his Christmas day strip:
Grief can grow, but so can joy. We can find delight and contentment in moments that balance the grief, without detracting from the honor we give the dead, and those moments also accumulate and never diminish in the happiness they bring to us. I can remember the good times I had with my dad, and the good times I’ve had with my children, and can look forward to a future of fulfilling cheerfulness with friends and family — this is how we cope. We embrace both the sorrow and the joy, letting neither reduce the other, and fill up our lives with everything. Hail and farewell, goodbye and greetings.