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Ashes
(for my Father)

The leaves still fall in November
carpeting the dying grass
beneath the oaks and magnolias,
each tree offering a
variation in the sound of footfalls.

Your footsteps are silent now,
only remembered,
only by me.

Our late afternoon Sunday walks,
sharp as the light edged past
the tops of the now-bare branches,
cradled in the arms of a seasonal death.

You held my hand
as I walked along the wall when I was small,
and carried me on your shoulders
when I grew tired.

Both of us older,
we would ramble for hours
talking of everything and nothing
until my nose and toes were chilled
and my fingertips hurt
from the dampening cool.

And still your hands were warm.
Always warm.

I cannot think of your hands being cold.
It’s a comfort in some strange way
that you are ashes now
and not lying in the cold earth.

It fits that you are ashes and air
As you burned to me
so bright and warm
all those years.

The Sower (image courtesy of Duke Photography)

My Mother once told me a brief tale about my grandmother.

A friend stopped by my grandmother’s house one day to visit. In the course of the visit, this friend told my grandmother that one of their friends had passed. My grandmother said, “Well, why didn’t she stop by? It’s not like her just to pass without stopping.” Oh. Duh.

Monday was the seventh anniversary of my Father’s passing. I didn’t really think about it on Monday, but I have had a dim recollection of roses all week. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Part of it stems from my resolution to post images that I’ve taken of flowers in order to hasten spring along. Tied into it are recent dreams of my childhood home, and memories of my Mother’s garden.

Many mornings in the spring and summer, she would cut a red rose from the big rosebush outside the kitchen window, wrap the cut stem in a damp paper towel, wrap that in tinfoil, and give to my Father to take to work with him. It would stay on his desk, greeting visitors and staff, until it was time for a fresh rose. We never talked about it, but it is one of those little gestures I recall that showed the love between my parents.

The  year after my Father died, the anniversary was very hard. The whole year had been very hard. I had been grieving in ways I didn’t even know about, but suspected. One evening, I went to a lecture put on by our local Hospice folks about grief, and halfway through, it was all I could do not to put my head down on the table and try to sleep. I realized then that I was still experiencing some deep grief, and that this desire to sleep was the way I was expressing it. And that it tied into my depression. I worked very hard to get through that time.

The next year’s anniversary was still hard – but it was a tiny bit easier. And then the next, a bit easier still. Last year was the first year that I did not deliberately dread and thus remember this anniversary. I felt guilty when I realized it had passed without my marking it, as if I had somehow forgotten my Father and his importance in my life. But I was rational enough to dissuade myself of that notion.

Remembering today that I had not attended to the exact day this year did not spark any sense of guilt. I have not forgotten my Father. I don’t know that a day goes by that I don’t think of him (and of my Mother) in some way, on some level. It might be a memory, or the sight of something he would have liked, or an experience I wish I could have shared with him. It might be a few tears of missing him, or wishing he was here to advise me. It might be  quiet contemplation of where he is now, and what he might be doing, and when we may meet again.

Yes, he has passed. He stopped with me for a long while. And now, time is passing, not leaving him or his memory in its wake, but simply moving on. As time does.

Each month carries with it a certain energy, whether it’s sparked by holidays, weather, memory, or something undefinable.  We all view the months differently, depending on our preference (or loathing) for a particular season.  Some time ago, I read a piece in which twelve famous authors each contributed their views on the months – one author for each month.

While I’m not yet a famous author, the piece caught my fancy and so I’ve decided to share my own measure of months with you.

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January
A month of beginnings, yet at the same time, a month that feels frozen in its own self.  It’s a discouraging month, as we all resolve to do things better, differently, and as the days wear down, so many of us find ourselves failing at our resolutions.  But we do start with the premise of the promise, with a sense of hope, even as we find ourselves plunged in cold and regret.

February
For me, there are hints of spring here.  The crocuses that push forward from the earth, the first glimpse of the nub of a tulip, the returning birdsong.  We have that Valentine’s Day, that dreadful Hallmark holiday, stuck mid-month, and the manufactured President’s Day the following week.  It is bitter cold, and feels as if we have taken a plunge off the high board into a near-frozen pool and are struggling valiantly yet slowly to the top, where the warmth and sun live.

March
Still wrapped in the depths of winter, wet, heavy, tumultuous, like a season trying to give birth and die at the same time.  March is wild, silent, angry, rapturous.  The world is trying to ram its head out of winter and is being met with clever blocks at every turn.  It is never an easy month.  Once school is over, Spring Break no longer exists.  March just means plugging away at trying to finish out one more winter.

April
Warm and green has finally carved its way out of frozen and dead.  It’s easy to leave the house and forget to take a jacket.  There is still a feeling of promise, as opposed to all-out spring, but breath comes more easily, and with it, a certainty that new things can grow again, and the world can renew itself.  Creeks and rivers thaw and start to flow, singing along with your own blood.  If it has been a particularly hard winter, weather-wise, emotionally, or physically, April can truly be a time to rejuvenate the soul.

May
One day, you turn around and everything is suddenly this intense shade of green that you can never duplicate, never describe and never quite remember. It’s as if it happens in a blink. Small things are being born.  Seeds are being planted, the earth is being worked, bringing us closer to our own souls, our own core.  A strong sense of wanderlust may start to flicker, sparked by the increasing warmth of the world.

June
Dreams come easier.  Gentle breezes ruffle cool curtains and the earth’s perfume intensifies.  A certain joyful laziness is always lying just below the surface, inclining otherwise industrious souls to sneak off and play hookey with a fly-fishing rod or a bottle of rum.  Gardens need tending now, as spirits do, to ensure that things planted in more uncertain days can grow and flower into something rich.

July
Summer is in full swing, spirits run high and free and celebrations spring up with a happy spontaneity.  This is a time for open roads, clothing that is not permitted in schools, and suntans that dermatologists frown upon.  Berries are meant to be picked and popped in mouths.  Fresh corn is shucked on newspapers on the kitchen floor. Basking is in order, as is hiking along streams, preferably with dogs in tow.  If you’re lucky, dusk rouses bats to thin the swarm of mosquitos, and crickets make the nights musical.  Sweat trickling down various body parts can be a pleasure, as can icy-cold beers and air-conditioning.

August
The ripeness of summer has a sense of winding down, but you can still bite into a freshly picked, sun-warmed tomato and have the juice run down your chin.  The beach may occasionally have a few windy days, and superb lightning storms illuminate the mountains and plains.  The air has a passionate warmth, slow, heavy and lazy, like a fat man at the end of a great meal.

September
Indian Summer.  Pick and choose the weather – cool in the mountains, hot on the plains.  The trees are turning, colors burning a radiant kaleidoscope.  Leaves are dying, floating to the ground in a spiral of suicide, wishing to be pressed between the pages of a book in the lingering sunlight, so they can forever recall their own moments of glory.  The air rings with a robust tang that marks the end of a frivolous, splendid season.

October
Crispness.  Good sleeping weather, and mornings make you want to snuggle deeper under the covers for just five more minutes. Whiskey is yearning to be sipped by a warming fire. Chill hands are longing to be held.  There are still a few glorious days left, blessed remnants of summer that appear unexpectedly and vanish like a morning mist, hard to recall.  Wooly caterpillars predict the severity of the coming winter, and hikes want to become strolls through layers of leaves, feet delighting in the crunching.

November
Wistfulness casts a shadow on days.  A sense of preparation, almost a rising pinch of panic, a girding of the loins for the coming cold months, settles into the soul.  Some thoughts turn to family, others turn towards loneliness.  Bodies at rest want to stay at rest, at home, as a primal instinct for hibernation hints at the surface of our consciousness. Either way, we tend towards contemplation of endings.

December
Bringing with it the only sense of lightness in the cold months,  the lucky ones have a sense of  innocence and delight brought on by the approaching holiday.  We can allow a childlike wonder to take hold.  Smiles come more readily and the world takes on a gentle generosity that is distant at other times.  Endings are at the forefront, as if the year is breathing a last sigh, a rich mixture of relief, regret, rejoicing and renewal.   

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The sense of a year is like the rolling melody of the sea.  It seems to have its own crescendos, like a wave, gathering, building, bursting, blooming, dropping, crashing, rolling to a final dark calmness.  And then beginning again.

I want to leave something behind when I go that will make the world a better place. 

Perhaps not ALL of my actions on this planet have been honorable – OK, I know they haven’t, but there are some realms of dishonor into which I could never venture.  There are some dark places that I know of in the souls of others that simply do not exist in my own, some stretches of spiritual coastline on which the waves of my soul are incapable of breaking.  There is nothing I have done that I could not tell my daughter about, although I’d like to explain some of my actions.  I don’t believe her father can say the same.  That’s too bad.  But then, he’s always been very good at justifying his actions and rationalizing how others are responsible for his behaviors.

A few days ago, I posted the (alleged) lines from Emerson on the definition of success.  As I think in terms what my legacy will be, those lines breathe in my mind.  I know that through our travels together, and our current closeness, Kelsea will have a lot of good memories of beautiful places and magical times.  I am hoping – although no parent can ever be sure – that she will be, as I have told her since before she could speak, a wonderful little person.  That in itself is legacy enough – bringing a life into this world that brings light to the lives of others.

But what about me?  I would suspect, knowing my Mother, that she had similar thoughts of her children.  I’m not sure I’ve created anything lasting.  I’ve given some folks some happiness.  I’ve changed the course of at least one life.  I’ve created a beautiful garden – but let it die.  I’ve written some good words, but have no sense that they will outlive me in any fashion.  I’ve taken some wonderful pictures, but none save my closer confidantes have seen them – they are currently lost in the online image gallery crowd.  If I died tomorrow, they would be lost as almost all photos are after the shutter-snapper’s passing.  I have not created anything with permanence, with substance. 

Is that an essential element of a legacy?  Or are the memories that another has of you enough?  And why is it important?

I think that to me, it’s important because I want to leave the world more beautiful than it was when I came into it.    96 people die every minute of every day.  How many of those people leave something tangible behind?  How many of those people leave something behind that enhances the beauty of the planet?  Is it only artists?  Collectors?  Writers? Scientists?  Builders?  If it’s practical, but not beautiful, is that a worthwhile legacy?  If you’ve saved a life but left nothing tangible, is that a worthwhile legacy?

I’m just thinking on keyboard now.  I believe I need to dedicate more thought to this question.  It feels important for me to understand my own position.

 

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May 2021
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