It’s been quite a while since I’ve written regularly, and that was not my plan. And spoiler alert: entering the not-as-planned will be a recurring theme in this post.
As I entered 2018, I was feeling pretty good. Strong, actually. With emotional and physical reserves to spare. The family was chugging along in a good groove, we were celebrating Micah’s MBA achievement, and I had chosen to declare Homeschool Vacation from December 1 to February 1 as I launched a first-ever online Tommimom Training. We rang in the New Year surrounded by family and champagne and hope. A new family picture hung in our music room that seemed to capture how I was feeling- Content In My Season.
On January 30th I hit the library full of motivation and eagerness as I skipped happily back into school mode.
But those library books ended up doing nothing but sit on a shelf and incur $22 in over due fees as I found myself suddenly no longer skipping back into school but rather being dragged- heels dug into the frozen earth- through grief. My mom had called from Boston at 1 am, driving behind an ambulance that was carrying the shell of my dad. He was gone.
School was closed indefinitely and the real education began.
Death. Mortality. Living as a created, finite being in a material world. Welcoming the children into loss and longing and sadness. Teaching Silas how to navigate airports so he can fly alone to visit Nana, helping Sam overcome anxiety over flying, explaining what cremated means to Caramia, introducing the children to hundreds of relatives and friends they’ve never met, fumbling through feeble explanations of the unseen and what we’ll see him again might look like. And when??
In short, emotions and experiences that every human encounters but were, perhaps, far more common to children and adults of previous generations. My dad was cremated in Plymouth and his funeral was held just steps from where the Pilgrims landed. The thought struck me of how loss and death and burial were such common (accepted?) experiences for early settlers. And I wondered if they hadn’t been at an emotional advantage. They expected it. I wondered if part of the sting of loss for me is the insulation I have from it. That I don’t expect it. Though I’ve experienced a few tragic deaths personally, death isn’t an entirely common occurrence. I’ve never held a wake in my home. I’ve never dressed a body. Dug a hole in the earth. Covered it back up. I can find it easy to forget that we’re just passing through as my Dad would say.
Ironically (or not ironically at all) one of the topics we discussed in my online training in January was the concept of flowing with the seasons and cycles of life. The idea that life does not necessarily move in a chronological, consistent, linear fashion where what works in one season will continue to work in another. That you don’t check off experiences and move on, but rather revisit them like seasons. Spiraling back around to them again and again as if travelling up a mountain road. And with the hope that, each time we encounter something like death or disappointment or fear or whatever that thing is for you, we meet it with growing strength and wisdom and grace because each struggle offers the opportunity to learn and grow if we’ll allow ourselves to let go and flow with it. To stop fighting our present reality with this shouldn’t be happening….this isn’t what I planned…this is bad…there’s no way out… and instead learn to accept what is and flow with it. To flow with it instead of fight it.
In some ways, accepting my dad’s death was easier (or at least a smidge less painful) than accepting the timing of his death. It was too soon. The kids didn’t get enough time with him. There were topics I still wanted to discuss with him. Questions. We weren’t done yet! There were/are so many protests. But even in this I am learning flow; to allow these protest to flow through me rather than hold on to them and let them fester. To allow them to rise up and out of me and all the way to God’s loving, listening, near-to-me ear.
This week, after almost 5 full months off, the kids and I tiptoed back into a school routine. And it didn’t take me very long to discover what this unintended break and my dad’s death has given me. It has given me a much, much deeper appreciation for my season of life. The season of mothering small children. Of cooking them breakfast. Of educating them. Of cuddling up in blankets on the back porch as Silas reads aloud The Chronicles of Narnia and giggles at Lewis’s wit. Of being lavished with Dollar Store birthday presents and “Dear Niece” cards from my loving-but-illiterate little ones. Last July we vacationed with my parents in New Hampshire. On what would be exactly 7 months until my dad’s passing, I had a scheduled phone call with my mentor, who felt I could use a little more understanding of what living as a finite creature in a material world means (ugh, that’s such a daunting sentence!) I tend to feel as though death is always lurking right around the corner and it can feel paralyzing. I’ll spare you the details, but that phone call ended with me asking God to teach me how to walk through life- with all its ups and downs and bumps and twists and mysteries- with more peace and confidence and flow. As I sat in silence, I could see my children jumping off of the dock into the water below, where my dad stood laughing and waiting for them to join him. And I felt at peace.That night I set my alarm to wake up with the sun. I wanted to take a picture. It felt important and I wanted to remember. Remember that moment. That summer. That lesson. I’m not a photographer, but I wanted to capture it- the light and shadows intermingled…the rough wood that gave us all splinters as we played….the ripples of the cool, clear water we jumped into…leading to the darker, deeper waters further out…leading to the mysterious morning mountains… leading to the rising sun… that had been there all along.
I didn’t know that this would be the last time I’d see my dad alive. I find comfort in thinking of my dad laughing and waiting for us to join him. And I feel growing confidence that no matter what season I find myself, I can walk through it in peace, knowing that I am simply passing through. Actually, I’m not sure if I’m passing through it or if it’s passing through me, but either way, I’m seeing it is possible to enjoy and bring joy to each season. And that it’s possible to see God’s loving care at each turn, bump, splinter, wave, tear.
May God bless our paths with all the care and support we need.