Editor’s Note: Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald’s father died earlier this year. Here, she writes about that loss and grief.

I saw my father, standing by a window, the day after he died. It wasn’t really him, of course, but for a second it seemed as if time had gone magically backward and everything was how it was supposed to be. It was a hot August morning and I had returned, a little dazed, to the hospital ward where Dad spent his last days, to collect the few belongings he’d left behind. As I rounded a corner, I saw an older, balding man standing in the sunshine, wearing my dad’s warm-weather uniform of khaki pants and a short-sleeved plaid shirt, with a slightly stooped posture that mirrored his. For one lovely moment, that man became my father, and I wondered happily what Dad was doing in that room, when he’d never been there before. And then the illusion faded: It was just another man, visiting someone in the hospital, and he no longer looked like my dad at all.

Loss and grief — experiences many of us have dealt with during this very hard year — are curious things. They play tricks with our eyes and our hearts, letting us see what we want to see, just for a moment. It’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced before. Years ago, a beloved redheaded friend of mine died, way too young, and for the longest time I would often see her bright hair in a crowd, only to have it disappear when I looked for it. And long after my cat ended an exemplary and lengthy life — 19 years! — I always seemed to see her, somewhere just in the corner of my eye, slinking past the doorway or disappearing under the bed, as if my house was haunted by a very small, soft-footed ghost.

These visions, or whatever they were, never seemed sad. They were comforting reminders that maybe something of my friend was still around, curious as to what I might be up to, or that maybe my cat was just happy to hang out with me a little longer. Ghosts, yes, but not the scary kind; the kind that remind us that those who have left are still with us, just in a different form. They were, in short, company.

Thinking about that old man in the hospital, I remembered Virginia Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House” (the inspiration for the recent movie “A Ghost Story”), which beautifully understands the idea of memories living alongside us. In its two brief pages, Woolf tells of two couples — one long dead — occupying the same house. The ghost couple wanders the hallways at night, pointing out memories, whispering so as not to wake the living. They gaze at the house’s current residents, who lie sleeping: “Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.”

It’s a lovely image — the benign ghosts finding happiness in the living. Those we have lost have left so many pieces of themselves behind, from tiny things like cat toys to enormous things like personalities (so much of who I am came from my dad), and it makes sense that they might find a way to visit. The world is full of ghosts: The week my father died, I heard a Prince song in a hotel lobby — “When Doves Cry,” I think, throbby and cool and beautiful — and realized it was the voice of a ghost, too; one who left music behind. The lobby felt pleasantly crowded, though it wasn’t. Sometimes memories take up a lot of space.

The loss of my father is still quite fresh, and I don’t yet know if I’ll see him again. Maybe it’ll only happen that one time; maybe I just needed to see him once more, not lying in a hospital bed but standing in the sunshine. But perhaps as the months go by, I’ll catch a glimpse of him now and then when I’m in his favorite places, or maybe I’ll suddenly think I see him in a crowd, just for a moment. It’s nice to think he — and my redheaded friend, and my cat, and everyone we’ve loved who had to leave this world too soon — might still be among us, quietly watching, sharing our joy.