The defining event in 2001 for me was the death of my father, Jack Brown. Hale and hearty for his 75th birthday last January, he had a series of strokes beginning in February and died at home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, on April 3.

Dad's place in my life, especially in these most recent years, had been central, and his loss—both actual and symbolic—is enormous. Love without judgment, goodness without fanfare, commitment without conditions—these are some of the things Dad daily demonstrated in large and small ways to me, my children, family, friends, even strangers, real gifts he gave to real people and an example of a human life at its shining best.

I miss him in his green coveralls and duct-taped gloves, chopping wood at his house and at mine. I miss him peering over my map and list, noting carefully each excruciating detail of the tasks and activities he will do with my children, Clara and Jack, while I am out of town for work.

I miss his patience at the mah-jongg board—first with me, then with my children, explaining the intricacies of strategy—and I miss the grin on his face when he bested us. I miss him as a bulwark of wisdom and compassion in a world gone crazy—a man who in World War II had learned firsthand that in war, no one wins. I miss him conducting music coming from the radio or just being quietly present, providing the ballast for family gatherings that now seem so disjointed without him.

When the time came, Dad walked into his death with the same grace and strength with which he had lived his life, and we, his family, were again blessed with a profound gift. My greatest fear when Dad died was that he would cease to be an active presence in my life and in my family's lives. Although I miss him terribly and still wail and keen against his loss, he's not the least bit less present for me. At times, his presence is hard to discern, and then I have to search. But I have come to realize that he'll always be an active presence in my life. It's just that I have a lot to learn about having a relationship with a person who's dead.

—Marcy Summers, age 38, Vashon Island, Washington