Monday, January 3, 2011

The Night The Time Stood Still

Barbara: When Kathy wrote her beautiful post here about nature talking to us in times of stress, we shared a lot of interesting stories. I think I told you guys that one day I would share one of my favourite stories about my late father-in-law. I waited to share it because, well, yes because it’s so magical, but frankly, because it’s also a little too involved to summarize briefly. So here it goes:

My father-in-law lived most of his professional life in France. He and Phil’s mom divorced early on and they made their lives on opposite sides of the big blue. Despite the challenges of being a child of divorce and not getting to see his beloved father an awful lot, Phil did enjoy a few nice perks, from the privilege of enjoying a Canadian life to the benefits of vacationing close to the Alps and getting to be a part-time ski bum.

But after we married and had children, Phil’s father realized that retirement wasn’t quite as sweet when you’re thousands of miles from your closest loved ones. He decided to move to Canada, and he chose a beautiful apartment not too far from our house. For nine months we enjoyed his company, his cooking, and his selfless babysitting. Stefanie was in her third year, Michele in her first. The relationship between our kids and their grandfather was very special. Stefanie and Raymond would spend hours together over tea and cake having sophisticated tea parties (Stefanie was always Chanel-going-on-25). Michele, too young to talk, would nonetheless spend long minutes staring deeply into his eyes. Raymond once looked up after one of these staring sessions and famously proclaimed that she was a genius (we tend to agree with him).

Raymond was only 67 when he died suddenly from an asthma attack. We’d been waiting for him to come over for dinner and he never showed. Phil found him in his apartment, no sign of a struggle or pain, just random, comfortable signs of activity—him in his favourite chair, TV on to the news, a sketch pad nearby, and, most tellingly, his asthma inhaler balanced in his open hand. It was a devastating loss that is its own story of grief and mourning and recovery. But the memories he gave us were bright and shining and positive.

A few people received “signs”—Phil’s brother, half a world away and tinkering, oblivious, on his motorcycle, was swarmed by Raymond’s favourite bird––but for Phil it was all sadly necessary “business”: emptying his father's apartment, closing his accounts, tidying up loose ends.

And then, a few months after his death, something happened that we still talk about in amazed wonder. It was the middle of the night and we were all sound asleep when suddenly we heard a terrible crash. Phil and I flew out of bed—we were three floors above the main floor and higher up than Stefanie who slept on the second floor (this was one of those super-narrow semi-detacheds that you find in crowded urban neighbourhoods)––so you can imagine the speed and caution that we channeled going down those stairs (a big stick may have been wielded).

When we got to the ground floor, everything was still and quiet. Completely normal.

Yes, THE clock
And then we found a clock that Raymond had left us after he died lying prone on the floor. This clock is a large, beautiful copy of a classic Maltese clock. But it is a treasure in its own right: ornately carved, hand-painted, beautifully detailed. Somehow that night, apropos of nothing we could find, it had leapt from its hook (which was still firmly in place), unlatched its battery door, dispelled its battery, re-closed and re-latched the door, landed on the floor (several feet down) without splintering or chipping its wood or paint, and lay in one perfect piece with its time frozen.

Phil looked at the clock, then looked at me, pale and shaken. “The time,” he said, “look at the time.” I did, but still didn’t understand. Then it hit me—this was the eve of Michele’s first birthday. And the time that was frozen on the clock? It was the exact moment she had been born the year before.

Deb: I have heard this story before, but not as beautifully fleshed out as this. Barb, what a moment in your family history. I remember when we were just getting to know Phil on our first family ski trip together, he told this story of his Dad with all the pain and warm memories spilling out. I remember thinking how profound our parents’ deaths are for the rest of our lives, and how precious the memories for Phil. I will always think of Phil’s dad as supplying us with our first window into Phil’s soul. May he rest in peace. 


  1. *shivers* Wow. Just... wow. I can't figure out what to say to that stunning story. Thank you SO much for sharing that. *shivers* WOW.

  2. Such a touching family story filled with loss and sadness yet more happy memories and all because of a love you all shared together. I do believe that these type of events only happen to those with open hearts of love.
    Cherish this family story and thanks so for sharing.

  3. Wow,That's an amazing store. For once it leaves me with nothing to say except for Wow.And to say that it sounds like the everyone in family sounds like they were super super close to him. So,sorry for your loss

  4. When my dad passed away I, too, moved his favorite clock and mine as well to my home. It is a hand carved all rosewood grandfather style clock. The craftsman moved it from my parents home to mine. When it is running it sounds like a heartbeat and I like to think of it as my Dad's. One day shortly after the move I noticed a crack in the glass that protects the works. It had never cracked before. I realized it was my Dad telling me he was cracked but okay. The craftsman came out and repaired it and it never broke again. Every time I wind it it reminds me of my Dad's heart which was cracked.

  5. I forgot to say thanks for posting this and letting me have a part in strange things that happen when one dies.

  6. Oh, I just love sharing this kind of stuff with you guys. I feel so connected to you. Love abounds.

    Madge, I love your story. The "cracked" heart put a sweet little one in mine.

  7. What a gorgeous clock, and what an intriguing story. I won't be forgetting it any time soon. Or Raymond. He sounds like a wonderful man.

  8. I too shivered while reading and continue to, actually. This is a touching story. I'm so glad he moved near you so you had the time together and made memories to cherish always. Christy

  9. Wow! That is a pretty freaky event there... have you talked about whether that was a message of some sort? An... "I'm here and settled, go about your lives again" or something?

    I think it's great that he got some 'grandpa time'--very sad he died so young.

  10. Raymond was a wonderful man, so glad in retrospect that we had even those few months with him here at home. Hart, we do think of this event as a kind of message that he was okay and so were we.

  11. What a lovely story. Almost makes you believe in spirits, even if you don't otherwise do.

    And here's wishing both of you a great 2011.

  12. I'll see some wow's and raise them.

  13. Hi Barbara, nice post! I have a wonderful memory of babysitting the girls with Raymond. Michele was crying and I could not get her to stop. Raymond took her in his arms and sang to her and she just fell right asleep. I was in awe!

  14. Oh my goodness, Larissa! Thank you so much for sharing that memory! xoxo


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.