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  • This weekend turned out to be about my dad. Not because there's any particular connection between him and the Pacific (Maine was his coastline of choice), but this was the first quiet time I've had to really focus on his death. And, sitting by the sea, I remembered again how complicated mourning can be.

    It is about missing him, both the gentle man I just said goodbye to, and the dad across the decades, the one who encouraged me to climb rocks and breathe deep the ocean air, the man who taught me to notice things of beauty and capture them with whatever lays to hand.

    It is about missing us - the family he created by sprawling eagerly on wet sand to build and "de-moll-ish" castles, retaken by the sea. Craftsmanship and whimsy, these were the paired gifts of my father to our childhood. And as today I watch the waves wash sparkles across the sand, I cannot help but wonder - where will we be, WHO will we be without him? The quiet presence, the master of our moods is gone and we have no center. How does a family circle when the vortex is removed?

    It is about missed opportunities to ask him the things I never asked and to tell him the things I never got around to saying. In addition to the ‘I love you” thing, there are the many more thank yous that we each could have said along the way. For over a month now, about sixty of his paintings have lain sprawled across my house. Little did I know they were preparing me for this. How many times do you paint the ragged rocks before you get the contours right? How often do you swirl the water across the page before you have credible mist, made both present and ethereal in a single motion? How do you capture a wave in full flight or portray the absence of light? These are things I could and should have learned from him before he died. His voice is with me now as I move the camera’s lens to try to get it right. There are certain things in life and the world that you can never capture or express exactly, but my father’s gift is this: there’s beauty in the trying.

    None of this is unique, nothing profound. Grief is grief. And so is gratitude. I remember my father as does every child, for the lessons and the love I cannot replace, even and especially when they came with strings attached as the greatest gifts usually do. Those strings are the memories as solid as the rocks I sit on; they are the ambition to do better when the next wave comes to shore. And the tears are only small ones over nothing in particular – Venus from the balcony; the Jerry Jeff lyrics about a love that never fades; the white-winged swoop of a gull where the mountain meets the sea.

    A new year is on the horizon, Daddy, and my gratefulness abounds.
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