Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can’t see the old contours. It’s a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of spring?
A hard question and worth talking a whole night on. But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance?
With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?
-C.S. Lewis (To Charles Williams)
You gotta walk it by yourself,
Ain't nobody else gonna walk it for you.
(For Thou art with me.)
The last few months prickled with visitors. They arrived in such quick succession that several batches tripped over the heels of the previous. I do love good company, but, for once, the spare sweep of February seems just right. Tasks undone still lie like so many cars in a pile-up, and I'm just now finding grit enough to tackle them. These good children-- their laughter, their bickering, their questions-- fill my days. And grief still finds ways to rush in unannounced and break me wide open.
When Dad grew noticeably sicker but before we knew his body fought more than a simple infection, I was several chapters into Sounder, reading a handful of pages each night while burrowed under the covers. I had put it on Mildred's IHIP booklist in August but had never read it myself. I set it-- and all else-- aside when leukemia announced itself.
A couple of weeks after God took Dad home, I picked it up again, and, that first night, tears stung when I read the words a mother speaks to her son:
But you must learn to lose, child. The Lord teaches the old to lose.I'm learning to lose. The loss of Dad yawns large. It's the largest loss I've faced as an adult, and the hardest lesson I'm learning. I've lost loved ones before-- friends and relatives; my grandpa, grandma, and Aunt Shirley (who because of her Downs Syndrome was more like a cousin) died in a car accident when I was a young teenager. My Grandpa Johnson died when I was in college. I've lost precious things before I even knew they should be mine to have. None of these prepared me for the loss of my father. The dike is crumbling, and from here to there, all the other large losses wait. Each loss is its own lesson, and each feels like the first.
The young don't know how to learn it.
The boy was crying now. Not that there was any new or sudden sorrow. There just seemed to be nothing else to fill up the vast lostness of the moment.Still, the great Hope sustains (for we are not like those who have no hope). Tonight I walked in the sharp February dark and thought of Dad starwatching on the hood of the car in summers gone. Orion loomed huge, stars piercing brilliant everywhere, and I felt infinitesimally small and utterly secure. The heavens proclaim the glory of God. I have nothing but joy for my dad, who is whole for the first time in his life. I look forward to the day when we who love him have joined him. Yet still remain times of vast, lonely lostness, when death seems like nothing less than the bitter thing it is. The season of Lent approaches. Our need gapes, but the Conqueror--our Deliverer-- stands nigh, with Life in His heel.
I'm the middle child of seven, perfectly balanced between
two older and two younger brothers, an older sister and a younger
sister. I admire each brother and sister for their varied talents and
have always been proud of them, but never more so than at the calling
hours for our Dad. We stood for over four hours, visiting with the
people who cared enough to form that long line in order to share stories
and sympathy. To my left, I overheard people who hadn't yet reached me
talking with my older siblings, who would announce themselves as
"Number 1," "Number 2," and "Number 3," and to my right I heard "Number
5," "Number 6," and "Number 7" talk with those who'd already passed by.
During the funeral ceremony the following day, a space was left open for people to share thoughts and memories of Dad. After all seven children spoke, a few others came to the front to speak, and I was touched by what my sister(in-law)'s dad shared. He spoke about meeting Pete and, because of Pete's intelligence and overall fine respectability (way to go, trickster!), his assumption that Dad was a wealthy, accomplished man. Then he came to visit my parents for the first time, in their little, yellow house in which they raised seven children, while forgoing luxuries for greater things. Poof! It was obvious that Dad's lifestyle wasn't that of a wealthy man. Sarah's dad, who through talent, hard work, and God's hand, has become a wealthy and accomplished man, looked at us and ended his reflection with the simple statements, "Gary was a rich man. I'm jealous."
*Thanks to Mrs. Doak for these pictures from her phone.
I'm still not ready to write about Dad. My "eulogy" at the funeral consisted of a few scraps of memory scribbled on a rag of paper and blurted into a microphone. I want to give more but feel unable. Words are too small a net.
storylines sometimes stretch over months, and since they've lived most
of their lives without brothers, they've learned to carry all roles,
which is why any time I see Susannah wearing her hair tucked into a
cap, I know to refer to her as "Tom." Sometimes "Orphan Boy Tom,"
sometimes "Prince Tom," sometimes "Servant Tom," sometimes "Tailor Tom,"
but almost always "Tom." (Annie turns into "Joe" when she tucks her
hair into a cap. Tom and Joe. They're nothing if not original.)