Nicole’s Garden

My border collie Gracie picks her way delicately through the flowers in Nicole’s garden. For a dog known to hurdle headlong into tree trunks in manic pursuit of balls, she is showing considerable restraint as she weaves among the ornamental grasses and tiger lillies. She stops for a moment to sniff a gnarled log, barely visible beneath a blanket of moss and swaying pansies. Then she all but disappears under the low-hanging branches of a Nanking cherry bush.

Gracie is banned from the other gardens in my yard, but she and I have reached an undersanding on this one. As long as she doesn’t dig out the flowers or drag the log from its resting place under the bird bath, she is free to wind her way among the plants or lie in the Nanking’s cool shade.

Nicole wouldn’t mind. I remember long-ago summers when my teenage niece planted and pruned her way through the gardens at her parents’ home in Ottawa. She stopped only long enough to eat a sandwich and gulp down water before beginning her next project. Often her big, lop-eared rabbit, Brownie, kept her company, stretching out in the soft earth, nibbling occasionally on a petal or some particularly enticing bit of foliage.

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Music of the Universe

“I’m making music, Mom,” you say. “I wish I could hear it,” I reply. “Just listen,” you say. And I do.

As I walk through the darkness of a pre-dawn morning, I open myself to the music of the Universe. A light rain taps a soft military tattoo at my feet. In the distance, I hear the steel-drum boom of shunting rail cars, and a motorcycle roars by, its gears whining upwards like a Fender guitar in heat.

“Where are you my boy?” I whisper. The reply is instant. “Right here beside you, Mom.”

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The Way of Life

Let me tell you about the way of life.

The weekend after my 27-year-old son David was killed crossing a street near his home, the police came to the door with his black backpack. Inside were his laptop, his glasses, and a small, white paperback, titled, The Way of Life.

I ran my fingers over the cover. The last thing my son had been reading before he died was a book called The Way of Life. Now, his life was over and I had to find a way to live without him.

David and I shared an enormous love of books. He started university late, at 25, after years of working low-paid jobs to support his real love, creating music with his band. He’d been skeptical of higher learning, believing everything he needed to know was in the books he read. And he read a lot. But, university opened new worlds, and he was delighted to fully immerse himself in what fed his soul: literature and music, and a new passion, philosophy.

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The Sounds of Silence

I wrote this essay in 2016. It was my first attempt at writing since the death of my son, two years earlier.


The house is silent. CNN has been muted. The kitchen radio and my phone are off. It’s just me and the computer. The cursor flashes expectantly.

Don’t await greatness today, computer. We’re in hostile territory here. Because, now, the thoughts I have so carefully muffled behind a wall of noise are free and they want to be heard.

I was a freelance writer until January 27, 2014. That’s the day my 27-year-old son, David, died.

And here I am, two years later, in my office, at my desk, attempting to trick my mind into thinking I’m working on a piece for publication.

It was my therapist’s idea. She thought doing something that I once found satisfying might give my fractured life some structure. So I look upon this as a homework assignment which I will hand in to my teacher next week. I’m prepared to spend an hour here, even if it’s just to watch the impatient pulsing of the cursor.

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Ripples

I see him, this young man, moving aimlessly through the crowded living room.

The dining table is laden with food: cold cuts, salads, desserts. Every now and then someone picks a grape or strawberry from an edible display, one of those decorative arrangements that uses fruit instead of flowers.

Still, there is no shortage of flowers. The air is thick with their scent. Birds of Paradise swan gracefully from a crystal vase. Orchids, roses, daisies, jostle for space on any available surface.They seem so out of place in the dark, waning days of January.

Every few minutes the doorbell rings with another delivery. The dog has given up barking and hunkers down under the dining table looking miserable.

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David comes back

Dad and I are at home. The front door opens. You walk in. We stare in disbelief. Our hands fly to our mouths. Our breath comes out ragged.

You look at us quizzically.

“Mom? Dad?” you say, stopping uncertainly in the middle of the room.

“What happened to you? You look so…” your eyes scan our faces in disbelief. “So. Old.”

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Mother’s Day 2018

It is early morning. The sun has not yet risen.The dog and I walk past slumbering houses along empty streets. The only sounds are my footsteps on pavement and the panting of the dog as she trots ahead of me.

This is our time. Setting out before the world awakens is deliberate. It is the hour when the wonders and mysteries of a darkened universe reveal themselves before they are eclipsed by the brilliance of the sun.

We don’t have to wait long. A pair of coyotes emerge from a back lane just metres from us. The dog tenses. I murmur to her. There is no danger. They are eager to get to the safety of their den before the world goes bright.

How can it be so dark right before the dawn? But I am comfortable wrapped in this black cloak. Because that same darkness lives within me. I am forever free-falling into the bottomless black hole of my son’s death.

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Forgiveness

Forgiveness.

I dance around the word like a moth circling a bright flame. From a distance, I see its beauty. But if I fly too close it will burn me.

I try to live my life with kindness. I follow as best I can the Buddhist principle of Ahimsa, the practice of doing no harm to any living thing, including yourself.

Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

I am human. It is not always easy to be kind. It is not always easy to forgive.

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Yoga Breaths

A blast of arctic air pushes past me into the yoga studio. The sun has not yet risen, leaving those brave enough to venture out at the mercy of the ice fog and biting winds. It is January in Edmonton. The dead of winter is alive and well.

I hang up my parka, stuffing my mitts and toque into one sleeve. The snow is melting from my boots even before I pull them off. I begin to relax. This is my community. Here I can forget for just a little while what awaits me beyond these walls.

I have been coming to this space four or five times a week since January 2014. It is my refuge, my sanctuary. Here, I find peace from the ever-present reality that my son, David, is dead.

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Valentine’s Day 2018

Holidays and celebrations are particularly difficult for people grieving the loss of a loved one. When our son, David Finkelman, was killed at the age of 27, our lives changed forever. This is an excerpt from my diary. I refer to David’s girlfriend as “M.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018:

Valentine’s Day. We were hit by freezing rain overnight. This morning, I inched along behind the dog, my crampons all but useless on the smooth, glassy streets.

The snow danced wildly around me, whipped into a frenzy by the north wind. I was blinded by a veil of whiteness. Blinded by the white. Blinded by the light.

Valentine’s Day. Suddenly, I was remembering Valentine’s Day 2014. It came just weeks after David was struck and killed in a crosswalk. The bleakest of times. We were zombies, moving through a world we no longer recognized. Blinded by the darkness.

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