Loss: The Lives Left Behind

October 17th is always a bittersweet day for me. It’s the day I lost my father, 12 years ago…yet it’s also the day I know so many of my family are reflecting on his life and the love that he shared with us.

sunflower

So many sounds, smells, and day-to-day things remind me of my dad. It’s no wonder one of my favorite smells is probably a little weird – the smell of a freshly turned field. Random things trigger my memories – an old brown and tan pickup truck turning down a street, the soft summer rain on a hot day, and the country songs I hear floating out of the radio.

Certain melodies will always remind me of him for reasons deeply entwined in childhood memories of dancing with my dad in the living room, singing as we rode down the bumpy dirt road that led to our family farm, or hearing the choir from the back pew of our small Baptist church. Then, there are songs that aren’t part of these memories, but that bring a jarring surge of emotion to my heart and make the hot tears well up behind my eyes.

One of those songs is Alison Krauss’ “Never Got off the Ground” – a simple tune sung in her lilting, effortless tone…

My father was a farmer
But his head was in the sky
He worked everyday but Sunday
‘Til the day he died”

If we’re being truthful, he worked some Sundays, but the essence of the lyrics are what matter the most. He was a realist with the heart of a dreamer, and I know all to well the grounding jolt he must have felt in the premature death of his father. He must have felt such heavy pressure to hold it all together and care for the acres of farmland that  surrounded my grandmother.

hydrangea

My mind wanders to my her, my tiny little grandmother. So small, but so fierce. Until the last year, I don’t think I’d allowed myself to imagine the complexity of her emotions. Part of that was selfish: not being able to shoulder the thought of her pain in addition to my own; part of it was the ignorance that comes with inexperience. In the years since she’s passed, I’ve given birth to two beautiful children and my husband and I have faced many of life’s hurdles together.

Watching my children grow through their toddler years brought the realization that Granny was strong beyond my perceptions. My husband and I carefully and prayerfully willed our children to survive their premature births, and lived daily with the fear that the hospital would call with news we couldn’t even allow ourselves to verbalize. My grandmother buried both a husband and a child; both after sudden deaths with no warning. How she must have ached, and felt the déjà vu of the wake and funeral for my father.

My mind wanders to my mother, who parented through her pain to help her broken, grieving children who moved like ghosts through the services and rituals. We tried to shoulder the burden of details, phone calls, and arrangements – each so shattered that we couldn’t see the depth of her pain until much later. What must it have been like to go to bed, and wake up a widow? To find my father and have to tell her children of his heart attack?

We have each felt his loss in the years of graduations, weddings, and births missed – but truly the spouse who’s left behind feels those moments missed not only for themselves, but also for their children.

On the 11th anniversary of his death, I’m grateful today for life, and for the strength of incredible women in my life who have shouldered life’s burdens while moving forward. I want them to know that even when they felt like they were trudging slowly along, their children simply saw that they were celebrating their dad’s life through living.

When we reflect on the gratitude of life, and the impact of loss on the lives that are left behind, it’s amazing how reckless we are with something so precious as our time. What would my father’s thoughts be on Alison Krauss’ planes that never got off the ground? He had so many plans, and in his dreamer’s heart were the plans for a house overlooking a pond (or two) with quiet acres of woods and farmland around.

lily pad pond

I think he’d give me a list (true to his personality) that would go a little something like this:

– Love God with all your heart, and seek to live your life in His path. Let go of the anxiety that comes with the pursuit of perfection. Relax in the simplicity of light and love.

– Treasure your time with your children, cultivate it more carefully than the rarest seed, and protect it fiercely. Rejoice in the mess and noise (yes, even the *noise*), because it’s gone too quickly.

– Get your hands dirty. Work the earth, weed the garden, and watch what beautiful things it yields. Take time to appreciate the miracle that is each blossom and leaf, and how intricately they were created. Much like the garden, live life gently, but measured with risk and purpose.

flipflops pier

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