"Where's the nearest gas station? Punch it into the GPS."
"Uh…there's one about 20 kilometres from here." I answered as we drove down the back roads of the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. "But we'd need to reroute down another highway. There may be a toll..."
"I'll keep driving" my father replied. I could tell he was getting anxious even though we had half a tank. "We really need fuel though. If we're going to be driving around to these obscure sites, we need to ensure that the tank is always topped up."
This conversation repeated itself daily over the month of April as our European road trip brought us through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and blink-and-you'll-miss-it Luxembourg. A preoccupation with the availability of petrol may seem strange, especially since we were on holiday – our final holiday together – but it did offer fleeting distraction from the fact we were both staring down the barrel of a gun.
"There's a gas station up ahead." I noted. "On the right."
"We should be able to make it to the next one. I'll keep going."
In a year marked by loss, depression and stress in every facet of my existence, the memory of this prosaic banter has become one of my most cherished moments of 2014.
Returning to my childhood home now brings back a flood of emotion. One of my earliest memories in life took place just beyond the perimeter of backyard that my bedroom window overlooks. I may have been three or four-years-old; the exact epoch of childhood remains hazy but the magic of the moment does not. I recall it being winter – a Winnipeg winter – and I was playing in the snow with my father all bundled up in layers, ski-pants, toque and mitts. Throwing snowballs into the air, I marvelled as one seemed to disappear into the cosmos.
"Daddy! I threw one all the way into space!!!"
Not missing a beat, my father assured me: "I bet it went all the way to Saturn."
It's hard not having this person in my life. This beacon of support. This rock. My father was a gold-standard individual. The older one gets, the more one realizes that people like this are few and very far between. In grade 9, I told my dad I wanted to study Philosophy. I was very serious even though the only enigma I truly wished to find explanation for was why high school sucked so bad. He told me to take classes that would aid in getting accepted into university when I was ready. Nearing graduation, I presented my father with an even more absurd career goal: I wanted to be an artist. Again, not missing a beat or expressing any sort of concern at the probability of me living on social assistance for the rest of my life (or worse, living at home until I was 50), he not only supported me emotionally but financially as I worked towards my goal. He believed in supporting people's dreams.
They say grief gets easier as time goes on but that is a lie. It gets harder before it gets better.
Christmas is approaching and while I am not looking forward to that, I lament ringing in the new year even more. My father's name is now forever tied with this year: Brian Donald Clague, 1950 - 2014. I've been telling myself a lie for the last five months that he is still here, somewhere, and the obituary confirms that. When the clock rings in midnight on January 1, 2015, I fear I won't even have that fallacy to cling to.
My other most cherished memory of the year occurred in late June. When my father was discharged from the hospital after his first stroke, he came home to recuperate. His mobility wasn't the greatest but early one morning, well before the sun could broach the horizon, he left his bed and snuck outside. Sitting on the deck in an adirondack chair, he gazed at the stars, at the moon and possibly Saturn. They are all visible from that vantage point.