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Life’s Embers

What is the kindling that stokes the fire of life as its flames burn and crackle through time?

Yesterday I was bestowed with the honour of caring for my father’s ashes. Though my mind and heart are flooded with the cherished memories of his long and vivid life, I also find myself evaluating my own. Taking mental and emotional stock of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’d still like to go on this journey. So often it takes loss and grief to remind us of how fleeting life can be, and how easily we sometimes take that for granted. To show us that our goals and dreams matter, and should never be forgotten no matter how difficult things may become.

Maybe it’s not the destination that matters. Maybe it’s the journey.

Ensign Harry Kim, Star Trek Voyager

My dad was a person who was never afraid to express himself, nor how he felt about something, or someone. It was heartbreaking to watch him slowly slip away and lose his independence, his spirit, and ultimately pieces of himself over several years. What hurt my heart the most, however, was to watch him lose his happiness. More than anything seeing and hearing him be unhappy was a gut punch for me, no less than it was for him.

And yet through all those years, unwaveringly and without hesitation he expressed repeatedly how proud and happy he was the day I was born. Despite everything he had lost, he held onto that pride until his last days. Proud of who I was, who I am, and what I’ve accomplished in my own journey. The same one I now find myself measuring against his, and yearning to make better and more vibrant.

Happiness.

What my father always wanted for me beyond all else was to be happy. I remember how helpless and powerless he felt watching me go through my depression. Watching any shred of the joy he would’ve given anything for me to feel, slip right through my fingers. He had to be there the night I was ready to end my own life rather than spend another day feeling lost, distraught, and miserable. It shook him to his very core, perhaps even more so than my own. I was his pride and joy, and I was suffering in front of his own eyes.

The lasting impression that left on him became evident later in my life when he came to my apartment to talk to me one night. A night that is still seared in the back of my mind. I had gone back to college as an adult to better myself and my experience, and while it paid off in the end, it was an extremely difficult financial strain requiring me to get into debt taking out more student loans. My dad knew it was difficult, and felt bad he didn’t have the money to help me out. And for the first time I recall in my entire life, he cried in front of me.

My father, the pillar of strength and sometimes stoicism, in tears because he was sorry he couldn’t support me financially. The thing was he gave me more support than he knew just by being there for me as my father. By being proud of me, and making me proud of him. I told him those words unreservedly, and shared one of the most audibly silent but emotionally strongest hugs I’ve ever experienced.

Even then, as I have no doubt now, I knew there was more to my father’s tears than he was letting on. He was heartbroken knowing I had been struggling to find contentment and happiness off and on for so long. He likely remembered the day I was in his bedroom in the middle of the night, breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably as my downward spiral finally reached a point of no return. Remembering my tormented vocalized list of the setbacks in my life, my suffering in loneliness, my having nothing left to live for.

He remembered my almost ending it all.

Knowing I hadn’t always been happy broke his heart, and that night in my apartment it bled right in front of me. Fast forward to the last few years as I slowly watched the embers of my father’s life flickering out, and once again it hit me that the kindling that sparks one’s flames back to life had run out for him. And as much as I dreaded the gaping hole in my heart that his absence from my life would leave, I knew I didn’t want him to suffer any longer.

Happiness.

The fires of our life never burn consistently and brightly at all times. Throughout our journey we are tested with pain, sadness, negativity, and loss. Like a burning fireplace that roars back when we stoke those embers with kindling and fresh logs, so too do our life’s embers come blazing back each time we rekindle them with our happiness. It’s that same joy and exuberance that drives us, sustains us, and makes life a pleasure.

It’s all my father ever wanted for me.

So today, I honoured him again by listening to one of his favourite songs, and in its beautiful verses I couldn’t help but smile through the sadness:

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me

And all my grave shall warmer, sweeter be

And ye shall bend and tell me that you love me

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

John McDermott, Danny Boy

I don’t just want my father to know I love him, I want him to know I’m making the most of my journey just like he did. That if he was still here he could once again tell me how proud he is of me. When I bend and tell him that I love him, I also want to tell him I’m happy. That my own life’s embers rekindle brightly with success, positivity, and joy.

With happiness.

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