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90 daffodils

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We’ve had three snowstorms in a week. The latest was forecast with close-enough accuracy that I was able to be at my mother’s house – formerly, my parents’ house – in time to help with preparation and clean-up.

I have shoveled that driveway probably hundreds of times, but this one was different. In the past, I did it because it needed to be done, or for exercise, or because I didn’t want my father to do it.

We were always afraid that he would have a heart attack while shoveling snow. That seems pretty funny, now, in hindsight.

Shoveling this time was different. I did it because it was the right thing to do, because I am the last Hickey man left in the area.

My mother is strong enough to do some of it, and I won’t take that away from her – she managed by herself in the other two storms this week – but I am here, with an ability and with a duty.

I won’t always be able to do it but I can right now, and for right now, it’s the right thing to do.

For right now, it’s enough.

My mother told me that, back in the fall, my father planted 90 daffodils across two landscaping beds in the back yard. We agreed that it’s going to hurt like hell when they bloom.

However, I know that he meant those flowers as a gift to her. I don’t think that they will be his last gift, either, somehow.

On another level, though, I choose to see them as an expression of hope.

My father survived prostate cancer. He had at least one heart attack, two knee replacements, five heart stents.

When his youngest son, Tim, sold his business and proposed to move to Nicaragua in 2012 to be a full-time father to his son there, my father supported him.

When Tim died of chicken pox a few months later, my father supported my mother and the rest of the family while giving a beautiful eulogy before burying his youngest son.

This was the second holiday season without Tim and I know that it hurt my father.

For all of that, he planted 90 daffodils in the backyard in hopeful anticipation of a spring that he expected to see. If he had known that he wouldn’t, I doubt that he would have acted differently.

Different. Yeah. I see that I keep using that word. Three times already.

By the time that those daffodils bloom in the spring, a lot of things will be different from how they are now, which is really different from how things were three weeks ago.

I agree – spring is going to hurt, but I think that the pain will be sweet. There will be a lot of things alive and apparent that aren’t one, the other, or both right now.

A few hours after my father died, I looked out the kitchen window down the walkway that he had traveled in his last minute of life, not knowing that he was at the end. I saw a male cardinal.

My father loved birds. Was it the incarnation of my father’s spirit? That sounds a bit New Agey, a bit hokey, but maybe it wasn’t just a bird.

Not for me to say.

I do know that he would have been excited to see that beautiful red bird and he probably would have spoken to it. Birds speak English, especially with a trace of a Long Island accent.

Through the window, I did. I said, “Everything is going to be OK, even the things that aren’t going to be OK.” He turned his head and then flew away.

This is the incredible power of the human will, to look at an event and say, “Yes, I see you. I see that you are dark and painful, but I don’t care. I am going to chose my own next step.”

Under the blanket of snow, 90 daffodils – one of my father’s last projects – are waiting for their chance, for the right combination of warmth and water to bloom, to simply live and be beautiful – they are, after all, just flowers - but in that also to defy ugliness and death.

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