Prose: “The Grief Response” by Paul García

Alma sleeping beside him, he stared at the ceiling. These days the house was too quiet. Sorrow sat on his chest. Tears flowed from his eyes, soundless as the empty room across the hall.

Like going away, to stay, you know, for good…

Always daring, all his life he’d taken chances, faced down bullies and imminent catastrophes, left a Boston career to raise little Genevieve in a safer rural world, but he wasn’t brave enough to accept this. He dodged the thought, flashed on moving day in the rented truck, he and five-year-old Jenny singing improvised verses, Oh, Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me, ‘cause I’m leaving Massachusetts with my daughter on my knee…

Like going away

At work, the boss understood. “Take what time you need to sort things out.”

With calm precision he called family, dealt with the funeral hall wake of loved ones bearing food and flowers. “I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s okay; there’s nothing to say. Thanks for coming.”

He only wavered with the second-graders’ inarticulate condolences, grave parents at their back prepping them on protocol. I’m gonna miss my good friend Jenny. He stood staring, catatonic. Alma, pale and haggard, thanked them for the flowers, accepted the card of crude signatures so reminiscent of a futile petition. No, he went wooden, locked, felt he’d melt, his hand and arm turn liquid, if he reached out for the card and flowers. Alma was softer, better. He could be tough, but not whatever this required. The social niceties lacked something. Questions remained unanswered. Wasn’t this supposed to purge, to be an emotional cleansing? Why’d it seem a sterile exercise, so hollow? Because kids usually outlive us? Wasn’t there a lesson, understanding to be gained? Wasn’t that little casket a seed planted?

He cried when alone, privately, when driving, inconveniently, down in the cellar, so blinded he had to shut off the table saw. Tears didn’t wash anything away. How long would he be this way?

Long enough. For both of them. Since the two policemen came. How long ago? Measurable by time? Since he and Alma identified the broken, bruised little body they’d fed and bathed for eight years. She didn’t have to but wanted, to be sure. His arm around her felt Alma’s shudder of recognition. In his own gut, he sensed a spirit leaving him, flying off. He had to be strong, held his wife, answered the cop’s question—Yes, that’s her.—while marveling at Genevieve’s remains, love’s light in their home, crushed and bruised lifeless by a vehicle shooting through a crosswalk. The school gave Alma twelve days to mourn and bury a daughter. The two of them signed insurance and legal papers, were dumb, mute, not even considering vengeance; that was God’s, or at least the lawyer’s wrongful death case. Life had revolved around Jenny, and now, now it was so hard to concentrate. All was dreamlike, out of focus, slow motion. Each noticed the other losing weight, the pallor, understood, said nothing. They coursed through the house like ghosts, rising early or late to avoid breakfast together, making the briefest excuses to miss dreadful silent meals, knowing a wall was building between them one silent stone at a time. They did try to talk. Monosyllabic, terse phrases. The mundane was safe, but no reason to waste breath. Mostly, it was silence, for hours, days, immeasurable time, till one of them—he couldn’t even remember which, though he knew it was in the bedroom where they lay fatigued so many sleepless nights—said, “We’re going to have to get help.”

And there had been simple assent to the obvious.


He gazed at the therapist’s diplomas displayed on the wall. Like Jenny’s Brownie sash of merit badges. The grief counselor pitched and touted her service, her young, unlined face a permanent, kindly smiling mask. “There are formulas, methods and tips for making one’s way through death of a child. Occasional sense of loss is a normal part of life.”

He nodded in agreement with the therapist’s pronouncements but saw nothing normal about Genevieve’s death. He remembered dropping her off at school, how she puckered, not so much to be kissed on the cheek as to kiss, to be the one giving love. She had that: love to give others. And at eight years old she’d still a whole life ahead of her. He was giving polite attention to the psychologist yet thought, No. She doesn’t know. She’s expert from academic preparation. Rather than depend on her counsel he’d probably have to figure out, grow his own wisdom. Then, the poor, naive therapist in careless speech used the word “closure.” Alma flared out of shock’s tranquil bounds. “Closure? There is no closure! The living being from within my womb, a part of me, vanished! How can you say such a thing? The senseless death of my child?

She was right. He understood. They both had a deep reserve of anger better left untapped. To deflect and ground Alma’s wrath, he softly placed his hand on her shoulder, said nothing. This young therapist was someone’s innocent daughter—but with good enough instincts to backpedal: “I mean, a better choice of words would have been that in chronic grief the survivor never lets go, doesn’t move forward in the emotions or in life. The loss remains as fresh as in the beginning…”

He admired Alma’s will to restrain rage, observed the counselor’s retreat. This kid doesn’t get it, no matter how many letters she puts after her name.


He visited Jenny’s grave, a settling mound of earth. Little grass blades sprouted through browned flowers unknown others had left. He talked to her, told her what he could tell a child, that all is well, that parents are strong, content, loving. Was it denial? Not entirely. To commune this way did some good. If it was communing; talking at the cold ground and headstone, believing he reached across to the daughter he’d talked with face-to-face so much—yet never enough. It helped, left him feeling more positive.

At sessions he tried sharing some of his perspective, but each time the therapist missed the point. There was no reason to make a point. He only wanted for Alma to be okay. He was swimming from a shipwreck to shore with her. His goal was marital stability, to not join those who divorce following a child’s death. After this clown show, he’d face whatever it was really about, whatever lesson it held. For now, it was like a doctorate in grief and anger, a private study of how he felt and why. Already known, anger was easy, obvious; loss brings anger. Its complex cousin, grief, was socially acceptable. We all prefer sad people to angry ones. Depressives let others spout from ego, maybe say a few words, stepping back without demands. He and Alma, knew anger and grief as two sides of the same bad penny, wore expedient, poker-faced masks. They suffered its heads and tails, at times consoling each other, drawing closer, at other times pulling away with cold, unspoken resentment. He learned to read Alma quickly. They were different about this, not always on the same page or even in the same book. For Alma, having carried Jenny in her womb, it was like loss of a vital organ, the heart of her heart. She’d said, “I still feel I can touch her, that our souls are joined.”

He couldn’t know a mother’s loss. Nor she his. As father, protector, guilt was a component. Guilt. A pall of self blame. He’d passed the delusion that he might have had any control, that he was being ‘punished’, that he did or didn’t ‘deserve’ this…

On an after dinner walk when Jenny was six, he’d stopped at the sidewalk’s end and squatted to ask her, “What do we do now?”

She looked him in the eye, answered confidently, “First, we look left to see if cars are coming. Then right. Then left again. If no cars are coming, we can cross.”


They did that. He took her hand, wrist thinner than two fingers, pale flesh veined in blue—so frail. And now he studied his own arms’ heavy ropelike veins running down to the big hands his father had passed on to him. If only he could trade places, as if his own seductive oblivion might restore her.


He and Alma went through the motions of life, sleepwalking through surreal atmospheres, with therapy no help until, Alma’s prescription brought changes. The counselor was effusive. “Alma’s affect is brighter! She’s getting on with life, moving on, going forward—she’s getting better with the medication’s help.”

Whatever ‘better’ meant. The same drugs he’d refused made Alma talkative, forgetful, less aware. She lost, misplaced things, repeated herself. The therapist’s ‘getting on with life, going forward, moving on’, seemed insensate clichés when flight from grief was not toward anything. Now addled and confused, diluted, once alert and sensitive Alma no longer possessed the challenging soul that brought him to love her over the years. Her spiritual ceiling was lower. The pills blocked much more than grief. Her speech so slurred in the evenings she seemed drunk, he only primed her with occasional questions. Much now centered on her ‘meds’. They sat in the silent living room, Alma in the armchair, the floor lamp illuminating vials of pills on a board across her lap. “She said I could cut the yellow ones in half.”

“So, that’s what you’re doing now?”

“Mhmm. She lowered the dosage; the yellow ones give me headaches.”

“Well, that’s a good thing then, right?”

“The others, the ones I take at night, the blue, and the red ones, I don’t know…”  The wall clock ticked away seconds. Its minute hand clicked forward. She sighed, continued, “The red ones are a mood stabilizer.”

He got up. “Well, I’m going to read in bed.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Good night, sweetheart.”

Alma was concentrating, totally absorbed in cutting yellow pills in half. He’d be able to focus on himself now. The months had not witnessed comparable change in him. As protection from a brutal world, depression was a spacesuit, heavy and exhausting to wear. At night the mental persecution of imponderables kept restful sleep away. So, he read, though the lantern of education was petty light in this emotional tomb. He lay the book down on his chest. He breathed in. Conscious of his breathing, conscious of his heart beating under the book, conscious of the silent room across the hall, he returned to his reading, each word a heavy stone to lift. Alma came to bed, toothpaste on her breath, and in minutes was snoring. Her face looked old. Exhausted from struggling to think through all those chemicals. Like going away… Her open mouth drooled onto the pillow. Alma would sleep eight hours, knocked out like a prizefighter. He missed her, felt even more alone. Yet alone he could figure out, work through this big blow dealt him. He saw himself as a boxer also, but only down on one knee, blunted, stunned, but conscious.

Next session, the young counselor focused on him, spoke as if giving a dissertation. “Unaddressed grief may lead to stress, which can affect even one’s health.”

He nodded, keeping his thoughts to himself. Physical health’s fine. Anger fuels gym workouts. In better shape than you.

She went on. “We all need emotional support.”

He weighed her words. Apart from rage he didn’t dare express, he was so fatigued by pain he’d dropped emotions, shielded his precious heart by locking it in a heavy vault. Cocky, this pudgy kid. ‘Emotional support’. He nodded, but the phrase made no sense. He was literate—why didn’t these two simple words conjoined have meaning? Puzzled, as if to taste them, he repeated aloud, “Emotional support.”

“From others. Maybe other fathers who’ve suffered a similar loss.”

He couldn’t deny that pain isolates. She had his attention.

As new guy in the men’s group, his job was making coffee for the church basement meeting and placing grey metal folding chairs in a circle as perfectly round as a piston ring. Eleven men. They did understand. The pain, sure, but everyone suffers pain, more important, they shared something of their struggle. That honesty drew him in. Passing a carved shillelagh around the circle, they took turns speaking of loss, of a father, a soldier son, a mother… Now, Arthur, the oldest, spoke. “Lois and I were married fifty-three years. We grew up together.” Arthur looked at the stick in his hands, then glared defiantly around the circle. “I’ve spent my whole life with her. Since we were kids.” He paused. They were silent. No one had to be anywhere but here. Arthur could take all the time he wanted. “Last night—it’s been a little over a week now—last night, half asleep, I reached across the bed, to touch…” He stalled for self-control. Words were failing. Arthur summed it up, “I want to thank you fellas, I, uh, really don’t know how to do this.”

He passed the talking stick on to the next man, who respectfully guarded silence before speaking. He didn’t detail his own loss, just how he felt and, reticent, raised questions he couldn’t ask elsewhere. “Still angry a lot. Or down in the dumps. I wonder how the world goes on as if nothing happened, how people can care about baseball or the weather.”

These men, like him, had no emotional capital for the petty, for light and pointless talk, had too often found themselves thinking, who gives a fuck?

Each spoke, then, last, a young bearded guy said, “It’s been good to go on, you know, slog one foot then the other forward. It’s natural, sure, to want to avoid pain. But it’s wrong not to feel it.” He studied the shillelagh. “So. I guess I’m learning what’s beyond my control; don’t spin my wheels so much.”

They closed the meeting with a prayer. He’d come mostly to listen, didn’t say much. He learned he wasn’t crazy. Their example taught him to be kind to himself, to dwell a little on memories of loved ones. Before, if Alma had caught him reviewing the photo albums’ former, happier life, she’d probably have admonished him, maybe even reported him to ‘the doctor’, the PhD having become such an authority. But psychically, Alma was gone. Alone, he studied the photo albums’ frozen-in-time images of Genevieve, now rotting in a cement box. He tried to see—had he missed something in their shared past? There was Jenny with her cat. What’s-its-name. Shorty. Well, she named it. He remembered the day Shorty had been run over and was dying on the lawn. The driver stopped and got out, apologetic, offering to pay for a vet. “He just ran across in front of us.”

There was nothing to do. Alma, the diplomat, spoke for him, told the driver, “No. It couldn’t be helped. It was no one’s fault.”

A sad-faced child watched from the minivan. They drove on.

Jenny, impassive, was focused on Shorty’s last nervous twitching. He placed his hand on her shoulder—So frail—said nothing. The sorrow of our children. He wished he could withdraw pain, as though a venom, through his hand on her shoulder. Maybe, in a way, he had done something like that. Later, that night when he was tucking her in she said, “Dad, Shorty said goodbye to me.”

He nodded, relieved that she finally spoke. “My father once told me that when we go to heaven all our pets come running to greet us.”

She thought about it. “The goldfish, too? The one we had to flush down the toilet?”

“Mhmm. It’ll be in the toilet up there.”

“I’ll put it back in a fish bowl.”

She was tired. He kissed her on the forehead, and in that kiss he willed a protective blanket, forever sheltering her from all pain. “Good night.”

“G’nigh’, Dad.”


Coldly, intellectually, he acknowledged the loss, and even the chaos of random events without ‘morality’; Nature doesn’t care. Still, it didn’t make emotional sense. There’d even been denial, or attempts at denial. He saw her! Genevieve! At the Mall! Going into The Gap… Could it be? His rational mind gave way, surrendered to the power of hope. He followed Jenny and the woman into the store, approached them cautiously, fearful. He looked at the child. No; not her. With a sigh he released the evanescent promise, the mirage of his wish. That was the first time. There were others, peripheral, proving false directly, then there were no more miraculous incarnations; his daughter was dead. Again and again, he had to relearn that word’s finality. Like going away, to stay, you know, for good…

At the supermarket he intended to pass by with a simple nod to the bearded guy from the men’s group. “How ya doin.”

“Hear about Arthur?”

He stopped. “No. Why?”

The guy looked over his shoulder down the aisle and lowered his voice. “Filled that old Buick’s tank. Parked in the garage with the motor running. Sealed under the door with blankets. Went to sleep. Forever.”

He didn’t know what to say. “Oh.”

“Not as though he went without warning.”

“How do you mean?”

“I don’t know.” He stroked his beard. “Looking back, it’s no surprise. Came a point, he just stopped talking. I’ve seen it before; secrets kill.”

“Secrets kill?”

The guy stared with pale blue eyes. “Arthur was in a lot of pain. Kept it to himself. You know, when life hurts too much?”

He knew, stared back in mutual understanding, nodded, let a beat pass. “Well, take care.”

“Yeah. You, too.”

They parted, he carrying the phrase in a lot of pain like the sand grain of an oyster’s pearl.

He didn’t share the therapist’s outlook that grief could be ‘rectified’. She described ‘the problem’ as though a mechanism that, hands on, could be manipulated into functioning, implying it had an end. She didn’t say ‘closure’ again, instead, discussed ‘resolution’. He sat through it, hour by hour, went along. Alma was on her pills. This kid can say what she wants. He saw there’d be no resolution. He was on his own. This was his loss, ever changing but never ending, to be lived.

After a time, they agreed Alma no longer needed the sessions. Still, the therapist remained concerned about his own mourning’s ‘duration’. No, he had not hidden it well; pretending, acting, had never been a gift. He’d over-projected, tried to appear upbeat with nothing behind it but the energy of a dull and abiding fury that even she sensed. Self-awareness, to remain conscious, had been his priority. Better pain than numbness. Loss of a child is important; he had to pay attention. He knew the value of working things out oneself, without counselors injecting their biases and opinions for a fee. In pursuing the light he knew he’d battle prevailing currents toward psychoanalysis and drugs. Those who haven’t dwelt in these murky depths lack the visceral experience to understand. He started a letter—

Even the most well balanced and emotionally resilient will be brought down by loss of one’s only daughter…

—and then burned it. Arguing was out. He no longer argued about anything. Hiding lack of interest, his emptiness, he made as though sadness was waning. He knew the accepted truism: depression is bad. Dangerous, maybe. Risky, yes. But bad? No, not good or bad; just painful…

The counselor suggested “More grief work. Like Alma’s growth into a different identity. It’s about resolution.”

“Okay. Thanks. See you next week.”

He tired of hearing about Alma as if she were a brighter sibling. He’d been there for his wife before the pills made her so blasé and shallow. Through unstinting support, even when at his lowest depths, he somehow found strength to buoy her up, to hear her out, to suffer her pain, to commiserate yet encourage, in short, to lie. And now he would lie again.

He remembered when Genevieve wanted to pierce her ears, all the lobbying. “Marjorie has real earrings, and Becky—and Becky’s still in first grade!

He and Alma assented; they would take her to have it done on her ninth birthday. That summer he searched and found perfect pearl earrings. Now, he would give them to Alma, who’d make no connection.

And again lie by signing off on counseling during the Christmas busyness. He thanked the young, overweight PhD, and ended therapy without arousing Alma’s doubts. By tolerating convention, by nodding and smiling like a bobblehead for months, he’d earned his freedom. And now, where was he? Moving forward. That cliché. But, still, to move forward with conscious dignity, without the easier, softer way of drug as palliative. First, to assess his resources. What had he learned? Simple: that we ourselves build the bridges between unknowns and truth, through doubt, with persevering hope of enlightenment. Mourning went on, yet something sped up within him. He needed a break, to be alone and free of petty distractions. In midwinter, at the year’s nadir, after the holidays’ whistling in the dark, he told Alma he’d be going to their camp in Maine for a while. “Just to check it over, make sure everything’s okay.”

She had no reaction to that. “Alright. Drive careful. Take your boots.”


The first day there, at dawn, he rolled out of bed with a single movement and planted himself upright in the center of the room. The wide floorboards were cold, but physical matters, the chill replacing warmth of sleep, the resistance of muscles beginning to work, were of no consequence. He carried himself—this mechanical body—through the world, through life, with indifference. No enthusiasm, no reluctance, just obligation, sense of duty. He dressed and walked through the low-ceilinged rooms to the kitchen. He fed himself a slice of toast. He put on coat and boots. The shed’s window to the east, frosted opaque, phosphoresced in the sunrise. He stalled at the lacey crochet of paisley ice, observed, indifferent. Before, he’d have admired the designs. Now, they merely reached his eyes and registered. He knew the glass was ‘pretty’, but these days without emotional attachment; he no longer had sentimental response to the world’s appearance. That had shut down.

The thin wooden door, cracked with daylight, breathed winter, its porcelain knob so cold it seemed wet. Outside, the air was sharp, crisp and clean. A doe foraged in the garden and lifted her head, big ears like antennae. Still skittish from deer season, stung by the door slam and sight of human, she bolted, stumbled, sailed over the fieldstone wall, and bounded off, zigzagging in jagged panic, her tail a white flame bouncing, flickering into the woods.

The sky was casket gray. No wind. Still as sorrow. Not even a jay violated the silence. No bird flew. In the woods beyond the stone fence, silver maples were leaden, the birches bowed. Pines wore their darkest green. Dead white snow, brighter than the ashen sky, held dominion.

He tramped out of the yard, uphill through the shinscraping ice shell of deeper snow to a corduroy road where woods met the blueberry barrens. The steady climb was a workout. His heart pounded. He stopped to catch his breath and turned to look at the hills. Dark green and umber waves, like bristled fur with white hairs of birch, rolled out to the bay. He stared emptily out at the distant cove, flat as grey cardboard, an eagle coursing across… What was the purpose of this? Couldn’t he just sit by the woodstove? This was a long way to go for some psychic elbow room. Intuition, a head and heart connection told him this was his medicine; it felt right. One thing he didn’t need now were people in his face. Something out here would help. He watched the solitary bald eagle cross the bay, then turned and continued. Powdery snow along this old lumber trail lofted about his boots. The woods seemed sensing, watching without judgment. He walked as though in a museum, respectfully, without a thought, alert in wonder. This area long settled, accessible wood had at some point been harvested. Trees were young, none a hundred years old. He passed through balsam firs in the neat rows of human nurture, Christmas trees, tame and healthy with the innocence and symmetry of untried character, surrounded by nature’s wildly splashing turmoil. He followed a deer trail into the woods. Fresh tracks. The doe he’d startled earlier? He knelt at whitetail pellets, felt one between thumb and first knuckle of his index finger. Glossy, and recent, but cold. Alert, listening, he rose and continued. He stooped under tamarack limbs. The woods breathed around him, like Alma sleeping, warm. Activity paused where his passage disturbed normal life. He felt like a visitor in the living room of strangers, someone described as a troublemaker. He slipped on a slab of wet shale and heard creatures retreating further into the woods. A chipmunk that in its brief life had likely never seen a human, eyed him with alarm and curious excitement. He winked at it. It returned the wink, shocking him—but then, weren’t the ‘beasts’ evolving, too? The other beasts. He hiked a ridge of older trees: red pine, a stand of spruce, and a towering white pine as wide as a truck. In Maine, a commodity. How could such a commercially desirable giant have lasted so long? He gauged its height, approached, craning his head at an ever more vertical angle. Gnarled with long life, counting seasons as days, this tree seemed staring off into distance, its attention in another dimension. A weathered lightning burn scarred the upper trunk of limbs immersed in fog and drilling into the sky like the many-armed sun dance of—Shiva, he thought, god of destruction.

The ground here was dry, soft, with a blanket of long, auburn needles. Around him roots coursed the surface like elbows in the crowded rocky ground. He sat to watch the world spin from the lap of this old one.

The rational mind doesn’t like to be benched, to sit out the game. He ignored its noise and in time it calmed, became the still pond. A brief prayer—help me understand—and no thoughts. He sighed into this mental leisure that kindly volunteered nothing. Finally. None of the usual. Instead, he felt like an antenna, null, without signal of its own. Just listening, without appraisal, without expectation; just being. He sat that way, becoming still, for a time. A phrase, cold ashes, bubbled up into consciousness, verbal trace of whatever he was seeking. He knew it was the state he must work to develop in himself. This was certainty. Not logic. He accepted without understanding. He had divined ‘cold ashes’.

That was all. All very ordinary, as though routine. He rose, returned to the cabin, stoked the woodstove’s fire, and slept. Deeply, below dreams, from afternoon to dawn, as though drugged, yet he awoke refreshed, without confusion or hangover, with no residual blanket deadening awareness. Yesterday, awaiting enlightenment, simple explanation, he’d sat very still, being very ‘good’ long enough to realize that being ‘good’ is part of the process in becoming ‘good’. Process. Was this the naive counselor’s jargon? No, he was being too self-conscious. Something in the universe whispered cold ashes, and he understood how he must become.

But there is no permanent tenure to enlightenment. A spiritual experience does not remain like a glowing halo or diploma on the wall. Cracked vessels all of us, we slip and slide back into conventional humanity. He ate, and returned to the old tree, his intention, unsure, to release, maybe, some ego with every breath. Rest and digest. No need of self… Reverberating, interrupting, thoughts came like unwanted junk mail—deceased, irrevocable, daughter dead. Wrong to bury myself, too. And Alma… He sat at the tree. His breathing eased. Thoughts came and went. He let them flow, wanting nothing, letting consciousness expand, never directing the brain’s free activity. His mind was the lobby of a busy office building. Thoughts raced in through revolving doors, rushed past to elevators emptying of other thoughts hustling toward the street. He detained none of them. He recognized nothing. Thoughts bumped into him. Irrevocable. They tapped his shoulder. Deceased on the tax form. They tugged at his sleeve. Daughter. He positioned himself comfortably. Nothing would happen for a while.

He remembered explaining his father’s death to Genevieve:

“Jenny, it’s like going away, to stay; you know, for good.”

“I miss Grandpa.”

“I know, dear, I know you do. I miss him, too.”

“I miss his stories.”

“His tall tales?”

“Yeah, Dad, like the summer it was so hot the corn popped in the garden.”

“Remember how he ended them?”

“Yep. ‘Strange, but true’.”

And they’d laughed.

Tears filled his eyes. His mind clunked to a stop like an old car’s jammed transmission. Peace, the word, came to him. He thought Peace, to calm himself, as protection against—Peace—the random distractions. Desireless. Peace. Without motive. Mentally as still as he was physically. Peace.


That day the sky cleared to brazen blue. In sun glare on snow, he returned to the cabin rested. He didn’t do much—sealed a window, brought in firewood—but somehow he’d changed. New clarity showed pain had served as spiritual touchstone. Bodybuilders boast, ‘No pain, no gain’. It still made no sense, but now it didn’t need to make sense. That he stalled at beauty—the sun’s reflection in crystal prisms of snow covering these piney hills, a crow’s guttural caw sounding like a blues man’s slurred lyric, a cut birch’s wintergreen smell—was a good sign. He spent the day on maintenance, stacking firewood, cleaning the cabin, made a simple miso broth. In bright evening moonlight, he went to the tree again. Peace became a mantra. The world’s appearances dropped like leaves in autumn. Listen to silence till the buzzing fades. Listen to silence until heartbeats are footsteps toward wholeness and peace. Stare into darkness until snowfields glow under the stars. Stare into darkness, then seek the light within. Breathe in the night until the night breathes you…

He slept like a stone that night, closed up the cabin, and headed home. In time, he resumed where he’d left off. With work. With the men’s group for their help and for the help he’d be to others. With Alma. When she was done with her pills, they talked more. They looked at the old photos. He took Jenny’s Easter bonnet to Goodwill. For some other kid. One little thing at a time, they converted Jenny’s room from pathetic shrine to guest room. There was much to do. No, there would never be resolution, only progress, the steady climb to a new life built on the old one’s lessons. Facing future memories of Genevieve, he girded and prepped for Jenny’s birthday and deathday, for Mother’s and Father’s Days. He was proud of having been called ‘Dad’. He felt, simply—though not a simple man—that their daughter was somehow with his father, listening to Grandpa’s baroque tall tales, and taking care of Shorty and the goldfish.