Brief candles

Leaving Utah last September was one of the saddest times of my life, saying goodbye to our daughter Lily. That little airport in the middle of nowhere, so desolate. Sitting in the lobby waiting for the airport workers to open it, no one around, just a guy sweeping the floors. Late afternoon light, end of summer. End of everything, it seemed.

But here I was again months later to surprise Lily for her 18th birthday, to arrive unannounced with my carry-on full of presents and whisk her away from her dorm room to our rental. I imagined what it would be like as I drove from St. George to Cedar City with the sun setting behind me, a fading red coal. Remembering the scene in the airport saying goodbye and why that was so sad. Does sadness get harder as we get older, do we feel it more? I do.

And it’s hard to put words to, but I’ll try. The sad that gets me most is rooted in loss. It’s existential. A reminder of how brief everything is in the scheme of things.

I had gone down to Utah in September for a parent’s weekend at her new school. We skipped the last day of activities and went to the nearby canyons instead, just outside Zion national park. Lily played music for me in the car and the weather was perfect. It was a small moment but one I’ll always remember.

But when we got to the day I had to leave it seemed like the day was defined by my going. I should have known better and flown out in the morning but instead we had the whole afternoon to think about it. I got to the airport early and sat there feeling sorry for myself listening to the playlist I’d made for her, fiddling with my phone.

The goodbye weighed hard because Lily was 17 and had left home earlier than any of us imagined. Her return was unknown, too. She had been through a lot in the span of a year and it felt like a key chapter of her childhood had been torn out. She had gotten good treatment and there was some solace in that, but we had all lost a lot of time together too.

I chewed on that as I drove across the desert and the dark came on. Dawn texted, Lily was having a bad day. Maybe I should let her know I’m here in Utah? I’d planned to wait until her birthday but maybe I should see her tonight.

So I texted Lily and asked how she was doing, heard she was feeling down. Would she like anything from the Natural Grocers down the street? Which confused her. And then I got on the phone with her and spilled the beans—I’m here in Utah!—and she broke into a sob, a happy sob, and I met her outside the student union with some mushroom-based cola drink she likes, and we drove up the mountain to an overlook and parked the car.

You could see the lights of the town from up there and the stars twinkling the same. She told me about her day and I gave her an apple, and we sat there taking it all in. Then I dropped her back off and drove to my rental and she texted I love you so much and I said the same.

So what of this life, what’s my advice? How to make peace with its cruel-seeming briefness? All you can do is live it.

Categories: parenting, writing

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24 replies

  1. Your presence in Utah when neither of you thought it would be necessary is just beautiful. I love synchronicity (not just the song by The Police). But, still…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bitter sweet. For me, more bitter. Sophie is 20 now. She’s going to Florida for spring break with friends and has a job this summer in Wisconsin. We’re left with a real ‘hey, what about us’ feeling. Hate to sound like a cliched old dude, but they really do grow up too fast. I’m glad you’re able to ‘pop’ in on her. We’re doing a bit of popping of our own next month. I hope Lily’s sobriety program is going well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We become irrelevant real fast don’t we? Guess that’s the point, though it’s a sharp one, that point. Thanks for the well wishes on Lily, she’s doing wonderfully well. Has been accepted to four colleges and is running almost a 4.0 but more important than that, has really responded to the life-changing nature of things (sorry if that’s opaque). Enjoy the popping in on Sophie; Wisconsin and FLA aren’t quite so accessible from PA are they?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A very moving account, appreciate the honesty and clarity

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Very sweet, thanks for sharing!


    gregg s johnson
    206 399 3066

    Pardon my brevity, I’m sending this message from a mobile device.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Bill,
    I am glad that you saw Lily, and doubly glad that it was at a particularly apt moment. And it’s terrific news that she is doing well.
    What a gig is parenting eh?
    Be well and do good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That delightful moment of confusion when you asked if you could pick something up from the market. A small, devilish pleasure of a Dad teasing his kid and the joy of the reveal. Nice job Bill. You continue to surprise me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is beautiful, but it makes me cry. Lily doing really well certainly makes it worth the loss of time with her, but doesn’t take away the sadness of having missed out on her senior year here at home.

    Love you so much. Give Lily a huge hug from Nana.

    Sent from Mail for Windows

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I suspect that even more than the carry-on full of presents, the presence of dear old Dad at a time of crossing a milestone was the greater gift. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such simple poignant writing, carrying a real depth of feeling. Feels too intimate to say much in reply, but sending cosmic hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Bruce, was going for simple and unadorned so I’m glad you said that. Better to get out of the way of the story whenever we can right? Makes you wonder why that wouldn’t always be the case. Be well, Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Gorgeous, Bill. I’m not a father, but I’m feelin’ it on this one.

    “Does sadness get harder as we get older, do we feel it more?”

    I’m not sure it gets harder, but it gets more familiar.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is honest, simple and emotionally true. I love this and can very much relate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad to hear! Yes on truth and simplicity for sure. Good tools to have in the garage I guess, if you can find them heh-heh. Thanks for reading Ross. Happy weekend to you.

      Liked by 1 person

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