Explaining independence in our country can be complicated.

Explaining independence in our country can be complicated. Credit: iStock

We honor our nation's war dead Monday. It's a solemn remembrance, for a sacrifice beyond comprehension.

That sense of both loss and gratitude often leads me to use this weekend to reflect on all of our departed loved ones. Some served in our country's military and had lives cut short. Others used their time here to help build the families, communities and institutions that have made our nation strong.

They all played a role in the weaving of our national fabric and we remember the way we felt when they were gone, like something was now torn. Life seemed to fracture, voids opened up. And we wondered what would fill that empty space and how we would go on.

But we do. Most of us, in the end, do.

In a way, it's a little like recovering from a physical injury. I have a torn cartilage in my knee. Rather than do surgery, my orthopedist and I agreed on a regimen of physical therapy, to build up the muscles around the cartilage to compensate for the tear and support the knee. It's essentially a lifelong commitment.

It's like that when you lose someone, too. There's no surgery to do, no way to fix it for good. But you can strengthen the bonds you share with those around you, fill the gaps as best you can and press ahead.

And yet, I haven't really come to grips with the absence of some people. It's as if I somehow expect to see him at the next get-together, hear her voice in the next room. It's not that I'm obsessed or paralyzed by mourning or in denial. It just feels sometimes like they're still around.

And then I remember: They are still here.

I'll be working in the garden in the early morning hours and there's my father-in-law, picking cherry tomatoes off the plants, popping them in his mouth and saying, "Sweeter than candy." And I'll see the cement he carefully troweled into the cracks in the foundation of our house, when he was helping baby-sit it one summer while we were on vacation.

I'll be playing poker with my brother-in-law in Valley Stream and suddenly I'm a kid back in that cabin on Cape Cod, passing up mornings at the beach to sit with my grandmother as she taught my brother and I how to play, her eyes dancing with merriment as we learned when to raise and when to fold. And I hear her delighted cackle at life's many absurdities echoed in the laugh of my sister.

I'll be watching my daughter, nearly 6 feet tall, bending at the waist to pick up something off the floor, and there's my other grandmother bending exactly the same way, back and legs at a right angle and both ramrod straight, and I'm instantly filled with the warmth and good cheer she radiated every minute of her life.

And on a gloomy day when my grandson scans the clouds and tells me that it looks like it's going to rain and we can't play outside, I'll pick him up and point out a spot on the horizon and say, "It looks a little brighter over there." Just as my grandfather did with me. And my grandson smiles, just as I did.

So even though they're gone, they're really not. Mitch Albom got it right in "Tuesdays With Morrie," when he wrote, "Death ends a life, not a relationship."

If you find yourself suffering this weekend, that's something to think about. The ones you love are still with you. You might have to open your eyes and your ears and your heart a little wider and look a little harder, but they're there.

There is magic in all our days, and something special in everyone we know. Find that, celebrate it and remember.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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