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|
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.