Link back to Chapter 46.
This is the first draft of a work of fiction; it will probably be revised in the not-too-distant future. This is Chapter 47 of 47.
A few years later, not long after my father died, my mother and I were sitting in the kitchen of the old house in Northwood one evening, and she asked me how long it had taken me to get over Kelly.
“I’m not sure how you decide when you’re ‘over’ someone”, I replied. “I still miss her. Mind you, I don’t find myself suddenly in tears with no warning any more, like I did for the first couple of years”.
“So that’s normal, is it?” she asked, staring into her tea mug.
“Well, it was for me, anyway; how about you?”
“I wake up crying in the night, and I don’t remember if it was a dream that started it, or what it was”, she whispered. “I can be busy doing something in here, and suddenly without any warning I break down”.
“Yeah – that’s how it was for me, too”.
“So, I’m not going crazy, then?”
I smiled and put my hand on her arm. “Of course you’re not going crazy, Mum”, I replied; “You’re one of the sanest people I know, actually”.
“Well, that’s reassuring, anyway!”
We both laughed, and then I said, “But to get back to your original question, I’m not sure I’m over her yet. I know I still love her, and I suspect I always will. I think what’s happened is that I’ve learned to live with her absence, and I’ve learned to be happy again, which at the beginning I couldn’t even imagine. And I think it was probably a couple of years before I began to realize those things were happening”.
The first year was the hardest. So many dates on the calendar were full of memories. September 16th was Kelly’s birthday, and September 26th was the day she had first found a lump in her breast. October 6th was our wedding anniversary, October 10th was the anniversary of the Thanksgiving dinner at Will and Sally’s in 1982 when we had first met, and October 10th 1983 had also been the day we got engaged. December 7th was Emma’s birthday.
Christmas was also full of memories of family times, going all the way back to my early years in Meadowvale. There was a photograph in my album that had been taken on December 27th 1982, when I had gone over to eat leftover turkey at Will and Sally’s, and Krista had just started dating Steve Janzen. Sally had taken a photograph of her three children that night ‘with their dates’, as she had said with a smile; I had protested that Kelly and I were not dating, but there was the photograph nonetheless, with Ellie and Joe, Steve and Krista, and Kelly and me, all of us looking as if we had just graduated from high school. When I showed it to Emma one day, she burst out laughing and said, “Dad, the hair!”
“Watch it, short stuff – that was the height of fashion in those days!”
“Seriously – you’re trying to tell me that there was a time when you cared what was fashionable?”
“Probably not”, I conceded.
The anniversaries continued in the cold months. January 1st was the day I had experienced my epiphany at Myers Lake, and February 5th was the date of our baptisms. Springtime, too, was full of significance for us; April 6th was the anniversary of our first real date at the Pyramid Lake resort, the night I had taken her out for supper at the end of my first visit to her in Jasper. April 17th was the day we had walked together at Myers Lake and first spoken our love for each other. May 21st was Joe and Ellie’s wedding anniversary, which was the day we first danced together, and I told her that I was obviously in need of some practice. May 26th was the anniversary of her surgery in 1986, when we discovered that she did indeed have ovarian cancer, and she lost her dream of having a big family. And of course, May 26th was also the anniversary of the worst day of my life, fifteen years later, the day of her death.
So it went through the first year; I would think I was making progress, but then another significant date would come around, and once again I would find myself paralyzed with grief. I spent as much time as I could that first summer out at Hugo and Millie’s; Hugo had given me a tremendous gift by allowing me the opportunity to work hard alongside him and Dan, both of them people I enjoyed, and Emma often worked with us too. We helped them with the barn repairs and the regular farm chores, mended fences and tended livestock, and each time we went out there we rode the horses – which, of course, reminded us of Kelly too.
We also went down to Saskatoon for a couple of weeks that summer to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Strictly speaking, Emma was too young to be a Habitat volunteer, but Mandy Neufeld was part of the kitchen crew that prepared meals for the workers, and Emma helped out with that while I put on my work boots and hard hat and hammered nails with John and Ruth Janzen. I was trying to remember what Rob had told me about putting the teaching of Jesus into practice; getting back into a rhythm with Habitat was one way of doing that, I thought.
I was also giving some thought to what it would mean to simplify our life. One evening in the middle of July I came out into the living room where Emma was curled up on the couch with a book; I had my old Martin guitar in my hand. “Can I talk to you for a minute, love?” I asked.
“Sure”, she replied, closing the book and putting it down beside her on the couch; “What is it?”
“You are getting to be a very good guitar player”, I said as I sat down beside her.
“It’s true, and I know you like your Seagull, but sooner or later, you’re going to be thinking about a solid wood guitar, because they sound so much better”.
“I have to admit that I really like the sound of your two, Dad”.
“Well, since you mention it, I would like to give you this guitar”.
She stared at me, her eyes wide. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.
I shook my head. “This is a 1970 Martin 000-18”, I said; “Solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides. I got it second hand in 1977, and I had it repaired and refitted four years ago. Now I want you to have it”.
“But Dad, this is your guitar; you’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember. You love this guitar!”
“Yes, but a couple of years ago you and your mum and a whole lot of other people very kindly gave me a wonderful Larrivée guitar, which I also like very much. And really, I’m not gigging enough to need two guitars, and this way, if I give it to you, it’ll still be in the house, and you’ll probably let me play it now and again, for old times’ sake”.
She looked at me for a moment, and then leaned forward and put her arms around my neck. “Thank you”, she whispered; “I never in a million years dreamed you would do this. Thank you”.
“You’re welcome”, I said, handing it to her. “Here; take it for a spin”.
“Will you play with me?”
“Of course; any time you like, all you have to do is ask. Just give me a minute to get the Larrivée”.
In late July we made our trip to Jasper with Joe and Ellie and Jake and Jenna. It was as hard as I had thought it would be; every trail we walked was a trail that Kelly and I had shared at some point during the past seventeen years, and every day hiking in those mountains was full of memories for me. And yet, in a strange way, it was good too; I loved those mountains for their own sake, not just for their associations with Kelly, and I loved pushing my body to the limit of what it could do. We stayed in Jasper for two weeks, and during that time we did a three day hike on the Skyline Trail from Maligne Lake to the Jasper townsite, carrying our tents and sleeping bags and everything else on our backs; it was the most strenuous trail I had ever tried in that park. Emma and I also took a canoe trip along the shore of Maligne Lake and camped overnight at a campsite part way down; we were far from any sounds of civilization there, and when I woke up during the night all I could hear was the sound of the wind lifting the trees and the lapping of the water on the shore of the lake.
We spent most of our time in Jasper camped at Whistler’s campground as usual. I was normally the first one up in the mornings, but one day Ellie was up early and joined me for a quiet cup of coffee at the picnic table while the others were still asleep. We chatted for a while about the trip and the kids, and we reminisced a little about our gigging days, and then she poured herself another cup of coffee, sat down across from me again, and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about my goddaughter, Tom”.
“Yes. In some ways she feels just like one of our kids, you know, just like our two must have felt like your kids to you and Kelly”.
“Yes, they do seem to have lived in two houses all their lives”.
“Exactly. Well, I think Emma and I have a pretty comfortable relationship, and I know she’s trying to work through a whole pile of stuff, so I’ve been wondering whether I should be a little more intentional about making opportunities for us to talk? What do you think?”
I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “She’s going to talk about Kelly in her own good time, Ellie; you know that, right?”
“Of course – this is Emma we’re talking about here. I wasn’t thinking of being pushy, Tom; I was just thinking of taking advantage of any opportunities that might come my way, and maybe making a few as well – asking her out for a cup of tea occasionally, or something like that”.
“I think that would be okay. Thank you”.
She shook her head. “I know what Kelly would have done, if the situation had been reversed”.
I gave her a wry grin; “Yeah, you’re right about that”, I said.
Joe and Ellie and the kids drove straight home from Jasper, but Emma and I stopped at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, another old tradition that was full of memories for us. The performers included Eliza Carthy, Great Big Sea, Dougie Maclean, and Niamh Parsons, and Emma particularly enjoyed a dynamic young Australian band called ‘the Waifs’, who seemed to light up the main stage with their electrifying energy.
On the Sunday night we sat at the top of Gallagher Hill, looking down at the main stage with thousands of people all around us holding candles, and I put my arm around Emma and said, “It’s still quite a sight, isn’t it?”
“Yeah”. She gave me a sideways glance and said, “Are you glad we came, Dad?”
“I am. It’s been hard though”.
“I guess it’s like the old cowboy saying about getting back up on the horse that throws you”.
She laughed softly; “I’m having difficulty seeing who the horse is in this situation!”
“Yeah, I know, but you know what I mean”.
“Yes, I do”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “I wish Auntie Becca had stayed a little longer; I like bringing her to the Folk Festival”.
“I remember the first one she came to, back in 1987”, I replied; “We got her wearing cutoff jeans and a psychedelic tee-shirt, and open sandals. I told her all she needed was a headband and beads and she’d be a true flower child”.
“How old was she then?”
“She turned seventeen the week after the festival”.
“So just a year older than I am now, more or less?”
“When did you and Mom first come here, Dad?”
“That was our first year”.
“And you’ve been back every year since then?”
“Almost; we’ve only missed the years when we’ve been in England for the summer”.
She gave a little sigh; “Mom loved it here”, she said.
“Yes, she did”.
“I remember her wandering around with me from stage to stage; she never planned where she went, she just sampled them all. She used to say, ‘You never know when you’re going to find someone new that you like’”.
“Yeah, that’s what she said”.
She turned her body a little and laid her head on my shoulder. “I miss her so much, Dad”, she said, and I heard her voice trembling.
“Me too”, I replied, tightening my arm around her and kissing her on the forehead.
“Every day I think I’m doing okay for a while, and then suddenly I start to cry”.
She lifted her head from my shoulder and looked at me. “It must be so awful for you, Dad”, she said softly; “You and Mom loved each other so much”.
I nodded, blinking back the tears. “Yes, we did”, I replied.
The night we got back to Meadowvale I went down to my den, turned on the computer and wrote a brief email to Becca:
We’re back. It was tough, but it was good. We did the Skyline Trail and the canoe trip we wanted to do on Maligne Lake. We missed you at the Folk Festival; Emma mentioned you, and I told her about your first time there, when you were doing your hippy imitation.
She also talked about Kelly for a minute. The dam has started to crack, I think.
I’ll call you in a day or two. Love and hugs,
The next morning, when I checked my inbox, there was a short reply:
You two are so funny; she wrote me an email last night too. Hers was longer than yours, though. I hope you’re not going to become like Rick in your old age.
I’m glad she’s started talking to you about Kelly. Don’t force it, just wait for it to happen of its own accord. Patience, Grasshopper! Listen to me giving advice to my wise older brother.
Just so you know, I’ve started seeing someone; his name is Mike Carey and he’s an EMT. He’s tall and gentle and he likes photography. I think you will approve of him. I’ll tell you more when there’s more to tell.
I’m working tomorrow of course, but I’ll be at home in the evening if you call after about eight o’clock my time.
Love and hugs to you both, Tommy. I miss you and I think about you every day. I’m not sure whether I believe in prayer or not, but I pray for you all the time.
Sunday September 16th was Kelly’s birthday. I put my head down for a nap after lunch, and when I got up again about two-thirty I found Emma in the living room, looking through one of our earlier photo albums, with pictures from my first couple of years in Meadowvale. I made a pot of tea, brought her a cup and then sat down beside her on the couch; she was looking at a couple of pictures Kelly and I had taken of each other at Athabasca Falls on my first trip to Jasper in the spring of 1983.
“You guys look so young, Dad”, she said quietly.
“We were both twenty-four”, I replied.
“Mom was so pretty”.
“Mum was always pretty”.
She nodded; “Yeah, she was, but I think as she got older she got less pretty and more beautiful, if you know what I mean”.
“Yeah, I do; that’s exactly right”.
“Were you in love with each other when these pictures were taken?”
“Yes, but we hadn’t told each other yet”.
“So it happened pretty quickly, then? I mean, you hadn’t known each other very long”.
“No, but it didn’t take your mum long to get to the real important issues. She was much more up front in those days than in later years”.
“What was she like?”
I smiled; “She was irresistible”, I replied. “She didn’t have a shy bone in her body; she always told you exactly what she thought, and she had this infectious joie de vivre about her that you couldn’t help getting drawn into”. I sat back on the couch and put my feet up on the coffee table. “I remember the first time we met, at Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Reimer’s place; she started asking me all kinds of questions about England and Oxford and why on earth someone would choose to leave Oxford and move to a place like Meadowvale, and in the end Joe told her off for carrying on an inquisition with me! She apologized, but she honestly didn’t know any other way of living, Em; that was who she was”.
“You weren’t put off by that?”
I shook my head. “I actually found her refreshing; I was so used to my family, where there’s so much that gets left unsaid but still causes trouble, if you know what I mean? But with Kelly, I knew where I was from day one”.
“Mom told me that you wrote to each other a lot that first year”.
“Yes, we did. We liked each other, and we pretty soon discovered that we were both on a spiritual journey, so we wrote to each other about that. I still have all those letters; we both saved them. Maybe one day I’ll let you read them”.
“Mom always seemed like such a strong Christian to me”, Emma said, “but when Uncle Owen talked about her at the funeral, he mentioned a depression”.
“She really wanted a big family; do you remember her telling you about that?”
“Yes, when we were in England for Christmas a few years ago”.
“It was an awful time, that first bout with cancer”, I said. “When she went in for surgery, we weren’t sure what we were dealing with; we knew there were growths on her ovaries, but we didn’t know what they were for sure, and I think we’d both persuaded ourselves to hope that they were just cysts of some kind. So when she woke up to find that they’d had to remove both ovaries and the uterus, it was like she suddenly lost a big part of her dream for her life. It was a huge blow to her; it took her months to get through it, and all the while she was having chemotherapy, too, which was pretty tough on her”.
“Uncle Owen said she struggled with depression on and off over the years. She’d said something to me about that, but I was surprised; I always thought she was such a cheerful person”.
“She was, most of the time, but every now and again the depression would hit her, and she’d struggle. Lots of Christians have to deal with depression, Em; there’s nothing wrong with that”.
“No, I understand”. She thought for a moment, and then she said, “I guess when you’re a kid, you kind of think of your mom and dad as always having been old, and being in control and all that, and I guess this past year I’ve just started to think about the fact that Mom was once a girl like me”.
“Yes, she was. And you should ask Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Joe and Auntie Krista about that; they’d love to tell you about what it was like when they were growing up”.
“I do want to look through those files Mom told me about, Dad – the ones she put together about the people who came from Russia and the ones who stayed behind”.
“Then we’ll do it; she would be really happy to know that you were taking an interest in that. She wanted you to know where you came from, and who your ancestors were, and the kind of life they had. She was very proud of her grandparents and all the hardships they went through, and how they came to a new land where they had nothing, and built a new life for themselves. She wanted you to know about that, Em; that’s one of the main reasons she did all that work”.
“Then I should look at it, shouldn’t I?”
“Only if you’re sure you want to”.
“I am sure”.
She sipped at her tea for a minute, her eyes far away. “Nearly four months already”, she whispered.
“Are you okay, Dad?”
“I have my good days and my bad days. I’m lonely most of the time. I’m trying to pray and ask God for help, but I’m not really there yet. I’ve been talking to Pastor Ron and Pastor Rob, and they’ve told me to be patient”.
“I talked to Auntie Becca while she was here, and I’ve talked a little with Auntie Ellie too”.
“Ellie told me she was going to do that”.
She looked at me for a moment, and then she said, “Is it okay for me to talk to you about Mom, Dad?”
“I know you really love her and you miss her, and I don’t want to upset you”.
I shook my head. “I want to talk with you about her, Em. I can’t promise that I won’t get upset, and I think we’ll probably both do a lot of crying, but I think that’s okay. Don’t worry about that”.
“Okay”. She drank some more tea, put the mug down on the table, and said, “I’ve been praying a lot, too”.
“How’s it going for you?”
“It doesn’t make me any less sad, but somehow it does seem to help me”.
“Does God still talk to you when you pray?”
“It’s not really to do with words, Dad”.
“I remember you telling me about that once”.
She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “I’ve gotten mad at God about Mom’s death, and I’ve said some things to him that maybe I shouldn’t have, but in the end, I know he still loves me. I feel it”.
“Yeah. Like I said, it’s not really about words”.
I put my arm around her and kissed her. “I’m glad you’ve got that sort of relationship with God, Em. Some day I might ask you more about that”.
“Okay”. She picked up the photo album from the coffee table. “Can we look at some more of these pictures?” she asked.
“Of course we can”.
“I want to know the stories behind the pictures”, she said.
“Well, then, I’d better make sure we’ve got enough tea to keep us going”.