Posts made in August, 2008

Hello, Goodbye

Posted by on Aug 31, 2008 in Death and renewal, Father in law | 0 comments

I wrote my father in law’s obituary this week. A lady from the Richmond Times Dispatch called us asking if they could do a feature article on him. I listened to my husband speak on the phone about how dedicated his Dad was to the church. “Sometimes we would go for a week with out seeing him for dinner except on Sunday.” I wonder if the woman on the phone heard between the lines as clearly as I did? My husband loved and admired his father but he knew always that he came in second to the family business. It’s hard for a child to compete with God for his Dad’s attention.

I must give my husband credit for reinventing fatherhood. With no example to go from he managed to let the children know that they were the most important people in his life. I turned through pictures on Thursday trying to find ones to show at my father-in-law’s memorial. As I scanned through the children’s birthdays, holidays, concerts, special awards at scouts and school, I note that their grandfather appears in only the Christmas photos and a few random shots when they stopped by, usually unannounced, and scooped the children up to have their picture taken together. I found a few where the children visited him at his birthday, but mostly the pictures are ones of him and other preachers.

My daughter and I were talking in the car earlier in the week and she stumbled around for a description of her grandparents. “They just never look at themselves,” she says definitively. I give her the quote from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and we talk about Thoreau and living deliberately. She asks again if she had to come to the memorial service and I tell her again, yes, you need to be there. She went to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to visit a new friend. She called me Friday morning when we were halfway to Roanoke and told me that I was going to be mad at her, but she couldn’t make it to the funeral. She told me a long complicated story about why her alarm didn’t go off but well, it’s her choice.

My middle son, the peacemaker, flew in from Seattle to attend the memorial. The preacher from Pop’s church asked me if one of the grandchildren would read something at the service. I should have said no, my children are all agnostics and atheists so they wouldn’t feel comfortable standing in the pulpit, but instead I volunteered the flesh of my flesh without his consent. As we drove over Afton mountain for the third time this week, my son sat in the front with his Dad studying the piece from Romans he will read. He was dressed in the new clothes I bought for him the day before, black blazer, soft blue shirt, gray pants with a subtle stripe, and a tie borrowed from his father. When he stood up in the church he was so handsome and he spoke in a clear strong masculine voice, like a prophet crying in the wilderness. Even knowing all that I do, I believe him for a few seconds. In the face of all the amazing men who speak today, godly and intelligent men, men who have spent their lives believing something I was taught but cannot accept, I stumble briefly over my incredulity. It is all so comforting. I smile as I imagine Pop’s ghostly presence standing in the pulpit smiling down like Luke’s father from Star Wars.

Each of us on the front row have our own private grief. The widow cries for a lifelong companion, but the rest of us, son, grandson, and myself, we mourn for a relationship that could have been. The important man in the pulpit talks about how children loved Carl and flocked to him for hugs. I think back through my children’s life and cannot recall even one time when they went spontaneously to their grandfather for a hug. The man they talk about is not the man my family knew. The man we knew could never divide himself from the role he played. As I watch my son interact so patiently with the grandmother he drew in this flawed family, I realize that he gave his grandparents the unconditional love they could not give him. I know he is able to do that because he got that same kind of love from us, an exasperating love evidently. He explains it to me in the kitchen last night. “Why do you always tell me everything is fine? Why don’t you just tell me I fucked up sometimes? Why do you always blame yourself?” Of course, I immediately accept the blame for that and apologize, and the boy shakes his head in dismay. Laughing now, I promise I will try to be more critical, but I know I’m lying.

My failure is in seeing my children as they will be, as they have the potential to be, but not giving them the constructive criticism they may need to achieve that potential. Perhaps because I was reared without praise of any kind, I have erred in the opposite direction. The boy will be 30 this year and I’m thinking he may just have to learn to accept the fact that I’m the mother he got. My daughter tells me always that I’m the perfect mom, but then, she knows what sells. My oldest forgives me all my sins just as I forgive his and he always holds part of my soul within his own. I love them all with a primal animal instinct that would send me rushing into the path of an oncoming tornado to protect them, however that is something that is rarely required of parents.

What they need and what I give them does not always coincide, but if I learned one lesson from the life and death of their grandfather it should be to listen. On one rare occasion my father in law touched my heart and made me love him in spite of all his flaws. It was when my mother died and he wrote me a letter from his real heart, the heart of a man who cherished his mother. In it he said, “The loss of one’s mother is the most wracking experiences life can bring us. All the nerve ends of the soul are centered there.” It’s strange to me that although I know how gigantic a figure my mother was in my life that I cannot see myself being the same in my children’s eyes. I suppose I won’t really understand until they have my funeral, and damn, I hate that I’m going to miss that.

Read More


Posted by on Aug 22, 2008 in All things natural | 0 comments

I need to go down to the river again

And walk out beyond the shallow waters

To where the sand becomes rock,

Then drops out from under my feet with a sudden intake of breath.

The cold green water

Will wash over my head

And I will lie back gratefully in the embrace of the familiar.

How many generations of fish have lived and died while I was absent?

Their kin have no remembrance, but will still nibble kisses along my arms and legs.

The ancient sun will laugh, and warm my back until I roll to face him.

The river does not care, nor the fish, nor the sun.

Perhaps that is where my father waits for me.

Read More