I haven’t been able to talk about my summer

I had a summer of life and death. It sounds melodramatic, but that’s how it was.

For the first two weeks of August, I said good-bye to my father-in-law. Amid numerous complications of numerous illnesses, he chose to discontinue treatment and meet death on his own terms. The family spent those two weeks (and longer) drifting back and forth from the hospital. I experienced a mixture of the reluctance to let go and impatience to move on that I understand is common in these situations; the days pass slowly and there is never enough time. And in the end, I am grieved as I cherish the memory of that very special man. I loved him for all the quirks of his personality, and for helping to make my husband the man he is.

Through all that, I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. Trying to find food in the hospital cafeteria that didn’t trigger intense nausea, and anxious under the influence of the first hormonal waves. But excited — sometimes guiltily, sometimes purely. The timing felt wrong and right at the same time. Everything changes so monumentally the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Yet for so long, it looks like nothing is really happening. The whole situation was exhausting, but I was able to find the reserves of strength that allow you to move as necessary through each day.

This all adds up to the feeling that I missed the summer of 2012. Besides the four or five weeks of overturned routine that surrounded the death, I’ve had to forego the patio ciders, gin & tonics, and wine that punctuate lazy summer days. There were few hikes, few long bike rides, few camping trips, few evenings on the beach. No fireworks. And now fall is settling in with its slanting sun and crunching leaves. I’ve always looked forward to fall. But it seems that turning inwards is less satisfying when you’ve had none of the hectic inside-out of summer.

At the same time, regret is pointless. The situation can’t be different, so I won’t waste (too much) time on wishes. A summer of life and death leads to profound moments for the soul. You can’t buy that with 100 perfect summer days.

Unexpected

I had a whole other thing to write about this week, but like many Canadians this morning, I was saddened to read that Jack Layton had died. Somehow, I couldn’t let it pass without comment.

Politically, I’m a bit ambivalent about the federal New Democratic Party; they seem a little too idealistic for most of my moods. But a good friend once called the NDP the social conscience of Canada. I think that’s true. They are the party that calls us to remember that not all people have the support or the means to pull themselves above the circumstances of their birth. The party isn’t afraid to put people before corporations. Which has never seemed more apparent than under the leadership of Jack Layton.

Regardless of my political stance, I was relieved and excited when the NDP swept into the House of Commons. I was truly looking forward to having Mr. Layton as the leader of the official opposition. He was capable of doing what previous opposition leaders had failed to do: take a stronger stance against Mr. Harper’s Conservative government. The whole political system needs a shake up, and I never questioned that Layton would be noisy, for whatever it would be worth to our close-lipped Prime Minister.

Despite the photos of a gaunt Jack Layton that peppered the internet, his personality seemed too vibrant to let something like a little cancer take him down. So the shock to me is both that he is gone and that the gap he leaves feels so huge. I will miss his presence, and I feel sorrow. But I read his parting words to Canadians, and I have hope that he has left momentum for the party and the next leader to continue strongly as Canada’s conscience. His legacy is hope. And that is good good good.