Absence

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Last night I dreamt of my father.  I sat beside his old armchair as he stroked my hair to comfort me.  I don’t know why he felt the need to give me solace, but I was content to stay there for the longest time.  I was both outside of the dream watching, and inside the dream feeling the touch of his hand.  I lost my dad fifteen years ago and I rarely dream about him, so when I do, it’s a bittersweet treat.

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On a day like today, when the sun doesn’t seem to rise, the sky, instead, simply becoming a lighter shade of grey; when rain drizzles and the landscape is just a smudge of shapes; on a day like this, which already makes me melancholy, it’s easy to feel the stab of loss.  The details of illness, of death and death’s aftermath are lost in the passage of years.  This is true for all of those I’ve lost.   But the thing I have found most difficult about death is absence.  A person who was there is now gone.  There is a space where they should be: a hollow in an armchair; a silence where there was once a voice; a void where there was a routine.  Death is haunted by those pinprick moments when I remember that they’ll no longer return.  It’s hard to comprehend that existence has been extinguished.  That I once had a father, a mother, and now I simply don’t.

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After Dad died, I wrote a story.  It was set in a derelict house on an isolated, snowbound moor.  From the gape of windows, to the hollow of footprints, to the empty chair under a broken roof, I see now that it was all about absence.  When my mother died, I wrote about the absence of words and the drought of colour in the pictures I painted.

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With time, the pang of absence lessens.  I no longer expect those I’ve lost to walk into a room.  I no longer visit the places in which they existed.  I no longer do the things we once did together.  Memories replace flesh.  But when I experience a new loss, inevitably the others resurface.  I remember that there is a space that a person once inhabited.

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When you observe the nuances of the seasons closely, the transience of life is always present.  I walk through the winter landscape with my dog and wonder about his concept of absence.  Every morning, at the same time, he will pause in his walk and face the direction from which the two Labradors he adores will appear.  Waiting.  But this week they moved away.  I wonder how many mornings he will wait before no longer watching for them.   It’s difficult enough for us to understand absence when we know, intellectually, what has happened, but for him people move in and out of his life without explanation.  Perhaps he would ask the same questions we do, if he could – why? where? how? – but we’re no closer to explaining absence than he is.

In this season when the earth displays her bones, loss is felt more keenly.  Loss of warmth, light, colour.   The silence left by the absence of birdsong.  The spaces that remain after the leaves are gone.  The gaiety of flowers and insects.  When everything is stripped back, the gaps seem bigger.  A bitter seam of absence runs through this season.

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And yet this is also the season of dreams, when I am filled with possibility and my creativity is at  its height.  Because of course the earth isn’t really dead.  Darkness is the loam in which things begin.  And absence is never only absence.  It is space for growth and self-examination.  That person-shaped void will always be there.  But what will that space allow me to become?  Absence has taken me back to the bones of myself and what I love.  It led me back to nature and a re-connection with the earth.  It led me into a deeper creativity.  Loss leads to movement.

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There are moments when I despair that the cost of loving is often the grief of losing.  But I’ve also learned that people are like seasons too.  Some are only meant to be in my life for the briefest of moments, some for the length of my years.  My life is richer for all those who have peopled it, but I no longer try to hang onto them when their season is over.  I’m just thankful they were there when I needed them.

99 thoughts on “Absence

  1. Dear Andrea…You are perfectly, wisely, right. But I think you are much more “well adjusted” than me. As always your words hold a beautiful ring, a shimmering chime of magic. Though I’m a little early, blessings of the solstice my friend. Have a cool Yule. Mega hugs.

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  2. This is so beautiful – I love whenever I dream of someone who has passed away because it gives us the chance to feel close again. Usually those dreams are more vivid and I think they are visiting. Maybe death is as deceptive as winter – we feel the absence even though our loved ones are still with us, in the same way that life hides away through the winter season.

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  3. I love the photo of you and your father, Andrea. Have you posted it before? It seem familiar to me. Thankfully, I’ve yet to experience the loss of a parent, but I know, it would be a tremendous void. When I reflect on the people who’ve come and gone in my life, I know that each one left there mark and has made me who I am today. Your photos are stunning, and your dog…oh my, that’s the sweetest face I’ve ever seen. What’s his name?

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  4. Very poignant and wise musings on life and loss Andrea. I like your perspective of absence as an empty space. What most struck me were these lines ” Absence has taken me back to the bones of myself and what I love. It led me back to nature and a re-connection with the earth. ” I’m glad you found a creative way through the pain and loss. Gratitude and acceptance have helped me too.
    hugs, Brad

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  5. With this holiday season, the loss of those whom we care about seems so heavy.. some days more than others.. thanks for sharing such special words about your dad, Andrea. Gentle hugs coming your way ❤

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  6. This is a beautiful reflection, Andrea. It brought back all sorts of memories – including the passing of parents. Recently I got a new puppy – the fifth (and possibly the last) dog of my life. It took a bit of an effort to feed him in the same dog bowl as the others! All things pass… and then I think how unwonderful it would be to be otherwise…

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  7. Christmas is a time of melancholy for me, even though I have two children. Because I lost my step father on the 13 th of December and cremated him on the 23rd. You get back some kind of normality, but you never get back to Kansas.

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  8. This is so beautifully expressed. I haven’t experienced human loss for a long time–my father died over 40 years ago–but I’ve lost pets and, even though I have quite a large number of pets, losing one always makes the house seem empty to me. Each life that we interact with is a piece of our puzzle. And, regarding animals knowing loss, one of my cats grieved in obvious and very unsettling ways when her cat buddy died–it was about 6 months before she seemed normal to me again.

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  9. That is so beautiful what you’ve written: the melancholy going hand in hand with an acceptance of the natural order of things. Of course, despite the hurt of losing someone you love, it’s possibly harder if a person loses someone they felt ambivalent about, because their life with that person wasn’t all sweetness and light. This can lead to a relief at that person no longer being there, yet a terrible guilt at feeling that way.
    I love that picture of you and your father. And I can really recognise the Andrea you have become. You really haven’t changed in looks at all. I suspect that as a child you were every bit as curious about the world and its workings as you are now!

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  10. This is so beautiful, and so thought-provoking. I, too, wonder about how animals process loss. I had the privilege of working for a short time with some chimpanzees who were given sanctuary in their old age, and who had all been part of the ape-language experiments of the 1960’s. They all used American Sign Language, both to communicate with one another,and with their human caregivers. I wasn’t there, but some of the volunteers told me that when the matriarch of the group, Washoe, died, the rest of the group showed all the signs of distress and anger that you might expect from humans – they tried to rouse her and got increasingly frustrated when she wouldn’t get up. Then they all settled down to grooming her, a period which lasted for several hours. And then, they went off quietly to their usual sleeping quarters, and the humans could have time with Washoe to mourn her themselves. Finally, the body was taken away for burial. After a few days, the chimps would get very annoyed with any human caregivers who cried. It was almost as if they’d been through their mourning, and were now getting with life. I suspect that animals mourn, but also that they are pragmatic. I hope that your little Border Terrier is soon able to accept that his friends are gone. For us humans, it’s a more difficult process, i know. Much to think about here Andrea, thank you.

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    • Thanks Vivienne, I often wonder about their understanding of the world – particularly those that are our companions so have to negotiate the way humans do things. The story of the chimpanzees is fascinating and I’m sure they do have their own way of grieving when they know someone has gone. It’s that unexplained absence of someone I wonder most how they deal with.

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  11. Lovely post Andrea and some evocative images. People seem to feel the loss of a father more deeply than the mother, for whatever reason. Your post brought me back to my fictional character Tess who was too young to remember her father, always longed for her memory to give up the secrets she knew must be hidden there, and she eventually walked and talked with him in a dream as she lay desperately ill.

    And don’t get me started on old, abandoned properties and the memories locked in their walls 🙂

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  12. Your deeply felt descriptions of absence fill it with a sense of being some-thing. This is a beautiful piece. I can feel your loss and the following absence of your dad. My parents died within two years of each other when I was in my middle 30’s and mother of three young boys aged 1 1/2 to 7 years. In the afternoon while my children were either at school or taking a nap I had a short time to myself to grieve. I was filled with memories rather than absence. But it was over half a lifetime ago so it’s hard to recapture my feelings.

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  13. As always you find the right words to link loss and its cruel physical abscence to the natural cycle of nature. Beautifully evocative.
    What you write about your dog and his experience of loss and absence is also very touching. I recently read a sad and yet hopeful book about death and how the young child couldn’t immediately understand that his mom would never come back. Unlike his father and other adults he was unable to comprehend the concept and his frustration grew as days passed. Until he understood. And his sorrow was so deep and brutal that I cried with him. It is not too suprising, though, that it is outside, in the winter, at the cemetary that he experienced hope and the return of joy. Exactly like you write in your post.
    I know that this season is your most creative, Andrea, so I wish you the very best during these grey, rainy, cold but also quiet and rich days of winter.

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  14. Lovely, Andrea. And poignant for me right now because my aunt went into the ER 2 days ago, on the 2nd anniversary of the ER visit that began my father’s health descent. They moved her into ICU today, and things don’t look good. It’s bringing it all back about my father, and I am worried for my aunt.

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  15. This is so very poignant and beautiful. I so glad you had that dream, because I too dream about my Dad now and again, and I feel good when it happens. Have a peaceful December! Cannot say that it is my favorite month because of the dark afternoons 🙂

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  16. I felt deeply the loss of your father. Although my dad’s been gone 20 years, I still miss him every day. It’s hard to let go, but we must. I refuse to give up my precious memories and take out the photos from time to time and daydream of days gone by.
    Your weaving of photographs to illustrate your poignant phrasing is always beyond excellence.

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      • I so agree. I keep photos of my Dad and Mom in my home. It’s a constant reminder of the love I received as a child and memories of where I came from that made me the woman I am. And, you are so right, no matter how long ago, I often wish I could reach out and say, “could I send you plane tickets to come for a visit,” or “I’d like to come home for a couple weeks.” There was no equal when it came to recharging my batteries. There was something about being at home on an Angus Ranch that put my fast moving life in perspective. Those cattle moved at their own pace and were still graceful and accomplished their purpose on earth [to breed and cherish their young]. Merry Christmas, Andrea.

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  17. What a touching story, Andrea, and so well said. I often ponder what you put into words so beautifully – “the cost of loving is often the grief of losing.” I try to remember to appreciate that those who are lost were in my life at all, and be “thankful they were there when I needed them.”

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  18. A very poignant post, Andrea. Exactly one year ago today, my mother passed away, so your words touched me very deeply. I too do not have a father or mother now.

    Then I remember that everything passes and one day, perhaps, I too will just be a memory in the minds of my children.

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  19. Lovely post as always. I think with grief comes creativity – the whole process of grieving helps the out pouring somehow. Your pictures fit the mood completely. And I have to say, I’m rather captivated by Winston.

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  20. What a wonderful post, Andrea.
    Thank you.
    It is just what I needed at this time.
    My parents died within 16 hours of each other exactly at this time of year. It was a trauma and trails of that trauma still inhabit me. But you are right. Their absence has created a different person in me.
    And every single living thing begins in the dark.
    So I treasure the idea that this is the time of greatest creativity. Inspiring.

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  21. Boy, how you move me with your poetic, majestic and self-aware words. You’ve explained that absence so well, which I’ve always struggled with putting into words. Thank you for sharing this. I could to relate to it so well, and I haven’t even lost my parents yet (my husband just lost both of his), but I have felt the loss you describe.

    I know the dream visit was bittersweet. A short visit with your dad is a blessing, but also a reminder he is no longer with you. Hugs and Happy Holidays.

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  22. Dear Andrea…how I’ve always adored the photo of you so happy in your chic sunglasses with your beloved dad. Your haunting, beautiful post touches the raw edge of my soul. How I miss my dad, still so keen, but I saw my robin today as I filled the feeder with fat balls; he watched me as he flitted through the bare branches of my Acer tree. Therein lies the promise of comfort in the grief. I will raise a glass to my dad this Christmas and also to your dad and to you my friend… ❤

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  23. a very moving post Andrea!! I understand so well and it seems to be more intense this time of year. So many Christmases Past come to mind. And as Edna St. Vincent Millay said ” the presence of that absence is everywhere!.” You are wonderfully philosophical. Blessings of the season dear Andrea!!

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  24. Andrea, on this rather colorless winter’s day your post got me to thinking about those I’ve lost in my life as well, both human and animal, and how our thoughts – or perceptions – about them can change as years go by. More clarity, more forgiveness, more understanding and more love. Sometimes a better grasp of why they were in our lives when they were and what they had to teach us. What we might have said were we not so young, but that they probably knew anyway. In the end, I’m not so sure they’re really absent at all, but just a heartbeat, a breath or memory away … drawn closer when we read something like your evocative writing. Thanks. Jeanne

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  25. I love this rather melancholy post Andrea; it suits the weather and the time of year. It must be comforting to dream of a parent who has died. I don’t often remember my dreams and those I do remember hardly ever involve anyone I know. I don’t believe I have ever dreamt of my father, who died over six years ago. I talk about him regularly with my mother – perhaps that’s why I don’t dream of him. Your photos are beautiful. I especially love the ones with the sun reflected in water. It is good to know the days will be lengthening again now.

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  26. Beautifully written, Andrea. I feel the absence of my mom especially at this time of year. Christmas was always such a festive event in our home, which lasted for weeks. I try to keep up some of the family traditions in her honor, like making her southern pecan pralines (which I successfully made for the first time this year!!) and homemade eggnog (which is quite addictive, have to say), and candles in the windows. All of this has her spirit all over it, which is both wondrous and difficult.

    That hollow feeling will always be there, but I think it reshapes with time. Eventually, we don’t feel as raw with the absence, or aimless. We’re not as fractured–we learn how to live with the absence. We figure out ways around it or through it, so that we come on the other end, a little mussed, but in one piece. 🙂

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  27. This is written so beautifully and tender, Andrea. I can feel your loss and the absence for there are many I have loved that have passed on. I hesitate to use the word ‘lost’ because somewhere there’s a knowing within me that nothing is ever really lost. It’s just changed from what we know and interacted with.

    I remember as a child growing up around my grandmother. I always felt her love but more because she had the ability to continue her connection with those she loved after they died, as if they were still here. I was always curious about it and wondered. If it wasn’t something that hadn’t freaked me out so much, I would have talked with her more about it and asked questions. Now, that I’m no longer a child and learned I’ve become more sensitive to these things. I can’t help but feel her close by. Maybe, like her, I’ll learn to bridge these worlds and won’t feel an absence and loss as much.

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  28. I appreciate your closing reflections, Andrea. In the face of disappointment over friendships gone awry, I came to realize just that this month, that each relationship has its own life span and purpose in its season. A particularly poignant piece (I take it, esp as it comes from a place of loss and longing).

    Xxx
    D.

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