Today is my father’s 85th birthday. Following an old family tradition, I got up at 5:30 and snuck into the bathroom of our hotel room where I had hidden tea roses, a candle, matches, his birthday gift and a Mazarine—a small almond tart that’s typically Swedish. Therewas a little tray in the bathroom that I decoratec with the roses and put the Mazarine in the middle of. Then I lit the candle. The sun was already blazing outside but with the curtains drawn the room was still in enough shadows for the candle light to shine brightly as I sang him the typical Swedish birthday song and brought the tray to his bed. We laughed and wept together—that I had pulled it off, catching him completely by surprise, that this was something my mom loved to do for all of us, that her absence has been a constant presence with us everywhere we’ve gone and all the things we’ve done.
After breakfast we walked up to the castle that sits at the top of a hill here in Uppsala, his alma mater’s city. On the way, we stopped at the cathedral. Both yesterday and today, I have gotten to spend time in stunningly beautiful, ancient holy places, and it is here that sadness comes to visit. Maybe it’s because each time I go into one, I light a candle both for my mother and for my girl, Maria. Yesterday on the way to Tre Faldighets kryka (Holy Trinity), I went past a store where I saw an exquisite dress that would have been beautiful for Maria. I started to go in to find out about it and couldn’t—to even consider buying it was to consider a future for her that I simply must not cling to. Today, in Domkyrka, I saw a “tree of life sculpture” which is where you place votives. The picture doesn’t do it much justice but it is lovely. There are some small, white Swedish candles that mom always used sparingly when we were growing up—they only came out at Christmas. Those were the candles available to light and place on that “tree of life” so that’s what I lit. My mom would have loved that.
As we walked this morning, my dad shared bits and pieces of stories from his days as a student here in Uppsala, the route he’d take from home to the his classes when it had snowed and he’d ski to school, where his first girlfriend lived, the library he did his research in, the bell tower by the castle where everyone went to make out. We agreed that it is so very strange, having strands of our stories in all these different parts of the world. We stop and retake the strands, and use them to weave yet another bit of our life whenever we can and then have to leave them hanging again, sort of forlorn, with no sense that we will ever be able to weave them back into the next part of the story.
And then this afternoon… It is Midsommarfest today in Sweden—delayed from yesterday and officially celebretated as the longest day of the year. I found a small village outside of Uppsala where they were celebrating with the traditional maypole and dancing and dragged my dad out there. I suspect he’d have preferred a more quiet afternoon, but he was a good sport. As a little girl I heard about Midsommarfest, I read about it, I saw movies and I sort-of always knew that because of my hip and how infrequently we went to Sweden and how unlikely it was that we’d be here for this particular holiday, I’d never get to be part of that celebration. And I was completely wrong. I made a Queen Anne’s lace crown for myself and got to be a part of the dance. It was glorious. Yes, my history is sort of messy and full of loose ends, my present is really complicated and I can’t dream a whole lot of dreams for myself at the moment. But maybe that’s as it should be because that dancing was some of the sweetest time I think I’ve ever received. Gift. Grace. Joy.