Just before Christmas, I was stashing some presents at the back of John’s closet. The kids had found all of my other hiding spots, so I thought I’d try a new place. I pushed his clothes and shoes out of the way to get to the very back. I placed the gifts on top of a brown filing box that I didn’t recognize. Hmm, what’s in here? I maneuvered my body and saw the writing on the side of the box “MJK.” The writing was my mother’s, and the initials are my father’s. Oh my god, I’d completely forgotten about this box. I pressed my lips together tightly thinking about the range of memories that this box might contain. Mum had given this box to me three years ago and told me it was my father’s old journals and some of their early letters to each other. The box sat in the hallway for a couple of weeks gathering dust, before I asked John to move it. It felt like so much emotion lived inside this box, and I wasn’t sure my heart could take what was inside. I’ll go through it later.
On this particular night there was a pile of dishes downstairs, and my bed was literally covered with five loads of clean laundry that needed to be folded. I had presents to wrap and boxes downstairs to clean up after decorating the tree. In an attempt to avoid all of that, and feeling somewhat open to face the onslaught of emotions I knew the box contained, I pulled it out onto the floor of my room. I opened the lid and could see filing folders, binders, photos, a shoebox, and a smaller box. I took the shoebox out and opened it. My heart flew into my throat and I gasped. It was the sympathy cards from after he died, and letters to our family, telling us how sorry people were for our loss. There was his obituary and a poem from my brother, written to Daddy. Heart wrenching words from a 10-year-old boy who had lost the one man in his life. I started to remember why this box had sat unopened. Keep the sadness tucked away. Protect yourself from the pain. If I don’t think about it, will it go away?
Then I went through some of the photos. These made me smile. There were photos of him as an infant, photos from his scout troop, photos of him climbing mountains with old school climbing gear. There were photos of us as a family. There was also a hairbrush – and I brushed my hair with it, thinking about how deep his love runs. I scanned some of the letters he’d written his mother and brother when he was a young man in boarding school. I found the letter from Dalhousie University in 1965 when they offered him a job.
And then I found something I could never have expected. It was a folder of query letters and short stories he’d submitted under a pen name that he’d tried to get published. I’d had no idea he had tried to get published in the non-scientific world, and seeing his attempts made me giddy. So I am like you after all.
Lastly, I opened the small box. There were four tiny packages inside, wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap. I unwrapped the first one, a flower brooch, then the second one, another flower brooch, then a tiny abacus pendant, and finally another abacus pendant. I laid them on the floor carefully and stared at them for a moment before it hit me. It actually took me a minute to process what I had just unwrapped. These were gifts he’d bought for my sister and I, but never had the chance to give us. He always bought us matching jewelry when he was away so we wouldn’t fight over who got what. I felt them in my hands, turning them over, knowing that he was the last person who likely touched them. And suddenly, the tears were pouring out of me – like water faucets switched on.
These gifts had sat in a drawer somewhere, and then got packed into this box, where they had lay unopened until now. How is this possible? How is it possible that tonight, of all nights I have found these? I have felt so close to my father lately and to see all of this so unexpectedly brought me to my knees. I sat there for ten minutes holding these gifts in my hands before walking downstairs to show John. “Where did you get those?” he asked, but I couldn’t speak. He looked into my eyes and then he started crying. I started to shake and sob uncontrollably. I let the tears just go and I felt sadness well upwards through the depths of my body. Sadness from 26 years ago, sadness I had locked away tight.
According to the tag on the abacus pendant, it cost $2.30. I can honestly say it’s the cheapest piece of jewelry I’ve ever been given, and I can also say it will be the most treasured. As the tears subsided, a flow of ease came through my body. It felt like love – the unconditional kind that never ends, that lives within us, and is always ours. Infinite. Sometimes, if we can allow ourselves to feel sad, and fully experience the pain, we can find a brighter place inside. Light always comes after the dark – but you have to feel the dark to get to the light.
Thank you Daddy. Je t’aime. And thank you to my dearest husband, who gifted me a chain for Christmas so I can wear the pendant around my neck. Gifts from the men I love the most, brought to me at exactly the right time.