Monday, October 21, 2013

Death in October

It was just a short week ago that we buried our father. 

I can't believe it's true.
The sadness is unrelenting, and my heart feels heavy.   

I think about how, after he passed away, I kept looking at his body and watching his chest.  
I kept expecting it to rise and fall.  
And then, I'd double take, because I knew it would stay still and quiet.  
I knew he had gone, leaving his mortal shell behind.
I knew he had shaken free, and that he had been made whole.

But looking at his body reflected how I felt inside: hollow, empty, left behind.

The days leading up to his passing were fairly gloomy and cold.

And then, last week, the beautiful sun and blue skies showed their brilliant faces again.

I went out for a walk with the children.
The streets are strewn with leaves these days -- a rustling, moving, wind-blown maze of color and form.  I wanted to drink in that gorgeous afternoon, pull the sweater tighter around me.  Fall is my favorite time of year, and I feel as tho I have just emerged for the end of it.  

It never ceases to captivate me, tho; to hold me in its calm, in its passing, in such radiant glory as the year begins to die.
At what point did Dad know he was going?

Life's experiences had made him beautiful, cracked with wisdom from both cold and joy, like the papery thin life above me.  And tho the wind was blowing, and I could see the inevitability of what was coming, I wanted to cling on.  Goodbye would always come too soon. Initially it was an unwelcome guest, but as we continued on, I turned to face it with open arms.  I had watched him fight, valiantly -- a fast magnificent autumn, headed straight into the snow.  I realized that the quiet, peaceful winter storms to come -- those late night blizzards burying the world in white -- would also be beautiful.  
I could still remember him as a little boy, in photographs, in memories he shared with me.
I would still be able to smell warm, fresh cut grass, and see my young 8 or 9 year old body out mowing with him on a Saturday morning.
I could remember the way he always calmed me and let me know, when life was hard, that it would be okay. I knew that when life was shaky, I could remember his counsel as tho it were freshly spoken -- because I know him well enough to know what he would say.
I can see him in the Spring tulips, and be hugged by their message that life comes back, that it returns when it looks like it never could again -- when you can't imagine a spear of green to emerge from dreary, bleak, cold ground.
When I hear magnificent music from Bach or smell garden tomatoes, I will turn around in my mind's eye to see us planting.
As I roll out pie crust, he will be there, and I will remember being small, sitting next to him on the counter -- watching him slice the shortening in with the flour, and remember my small hands eating the leftovers.
As I work, I will remember what he taught me about service, about living a life of meaning, about spending my time on stuff that matters.
When I pull a blanket around me by the fire and sit looking at its flames in the quiet at night, I will think of all the times we talked in those rooms, all that I came to treasure because of what was shared in quiet conversations.

Looking at this photo, I am struck by the leaves, both waving and clinging.  
One by one, they will drop, swooping in glorious arcs.

Is life like that?  Beginning, growth, blooming, metamorphosis, stretching, aging, old, dying, and new once more? 
In his final act of submission, was Dad shaken like those little leaves, gently letting go, ready to come again when life will begin anew and death can hold us no longer -- and we are fully whole?

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