Thanksgiving weekend, eight of us family members spanning three generations packed into my Honda Pilot and headed down to the Bolivar Peninsula where I grew up. We were on a mission to visit Dad’s favorite restaurant down there, and remember him. It was a perfect autumn day to walk the beach and reminisce.
So of course, I wrote a simple little haiku:
back home at the beach the day after thanksgiving remembering Dad
When I looked at the pictures later, I saw each of us drifting in our separate thoughts:
that day at the beach my son was looking forward ~ I was looking back
Somehow, Dad was there with each of us, in that place where we have so many memories of him. I know I can always find him when I look out to sea.
the salty air’s kiss joins the sundancing-sparkles: Dad’s eternal hug
For a look into what it was like to grow up along the beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, check out my days by the water. Dad really liked that poem, and I cherish his comment on the post.
Labor Day weekend of 2000 was the last time I saw my Mom, so many years ago now.
She died just two weeks later, peacefully, in her sleep. She had been ill for so very long. She was only 60.
My family and my brother’s family joined Mom and Dad at their beach home in Gilchrist, Texas that last Labor Day weekend. With three small children between us, we balanced our time between going to the beach and hanging out in the sunroom with Mom and Dad, she in her wheelchair and unable to speak beyond a whisper because of “frozen” vocal cords, and he so grateful for the company. They both reveled in the noisy, joyful chaos of children. Dad grilled several different meats and served cocktails that weekend; Mom sat, surrounded by all of us, with a quiet and wistful smile.
Like always when our family we got together, the background music was the soundtrack from our childhood, an eclectic mix that included The Kingston Trio, Simon and Garfunkel, the soundtrack from Guys and Dolls, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Smothers Brothers and Manhattan Transfer.
It was a great time: comfort food, comfort music, comfort people. All these years later, I have two really strong memories from that Labor Day Weekend, that final time my family of origin was all together: recollections of cherries and empathy.
We brought fresh cherries to share, a late-summer harvest probably shipped from somewhere in the Northwest to our local grocer. Mom hadn’t had cherries in years; the grocery stores on the Bolivar Peninsula stocked the basics but didn’t have fancy mustards, gourmet cheeses or produce from out of state. She loved those cherries. She ate them with joy, the dark red juice staining her lips and her thin, worn fingers.
Mom was so happy in those moments, maybe reliving a memory of her own, another special time studded with fresh cherries and loved ones. We put on the Smothers Brothers record (yes, an actual record!) to hear their song “Apples, Peaches and Cherries” – take a listen below; it is a really sweet tune. We might have sung along; I can’t remember now. But I will never, ever forget Mom’s face as she reveled in those cherries. It was an awesome feeling to bring her that simple pleasure.
Getting ready for our final trek to swim and make sandcastles on Labor Day, we were four 30-something adults herding two toddlers and a 6-year old, making a lot of mess and noise. Mom and Dad didn’t mind at all. We collected sunscreen and beach towels and water shoes and sippy cups (and probably beer) and set out to walk the 200 yards to the sandy beach.
Something made me turn back, telling the others I’d catch up. I ran up the stairs to give Mom a hug. She was in her wheelchair, in the sunroom, with an open book in her lap, but not reading. She was just staring out the window at our ragtag little group headed toward the beach, every child hand-in-hand with a parent.
Was she remembering the days when she was the parent holding the hands of unruly, eager children anxious to make sandcastles and dive headfirst into the waves? Or maybe just sad that she couldn’t go with us to body-surf and look for starfish and sand dollars? Mom loved the beach so much, and before becoming an invalid the last few years of her life, took a walk there almost every day.
I bent down to hug her, saying:
I know you still want to run and jump and play, Mom, and I’m so sorry you can’t.”
She gave a little sob, and squeezed my hand hard, her fingers still cherry-stained. She was so stoic through all of her illnesses, never indulging in self-pity, never complaining, never allowing anyone to feel sorry for her. If she could still talk, she would’ve shrugged and said, “I’m fine.” I only saw her cry once in the 38 years we had together. But on that last Labor Day, when I offered my clumsy empathy, she accepted it and allowed me to share her pain, just for a few beautiful moments, squeezing my hand while we both cried just a little. And then she motioned for me to go join the others, and I did, not looking back.
I knew she would watch me all the way to the water’s edge.
My “run and jump and play” comments weren’t quite the last words I said to Mom, but they are the ones I remember. I’m so grateful for those few moments on our last day together, when she trusted me enough to let herself be vulnerable, and gave me a glimpse of the ache in her heart about the brokenness of her body.
Labor Day is About…
To me, Labor Day is about appreciating the meaningful and challenging work I have always been blessed with, and of course, barbecue. But since since 2000, it will always remind me of cherries and empathy, too.
Family gathers ’round when a loved one dies, sharing memories and telling stories, all a reminder both of the value of the life of the lost one and the interconnectedness of those who remain. We experienced this at Glover Gardens recently when my Dad died, rejoicing in the togetherness of family and friends even while we mourned together. In addition to their continual prayers and love, my cousin’s wife brought a gift to our informal celebration of Dad’s life, a live and blooming hibiscus, with a heartfelt haiku.
your much-beloved dad
like this hibiscus flower
blossomed love and life
I’ve posted before about how we lovelove loveboth hibiscus and haiku here at Glover Gardens; this gift was as appropriate and welcome as a hug to smooth a hardship – and so life-affirming! A quick little poem, at the second grade level (I couldn’t resist):
I have a wonderful cousin who has a wonderful wife. She wrote a hibiscus haiku to celebrate Dad’s life.
Followers of this blog will have read about our last millennial in college, the young musician majoring in Jazz Composition at the University of Texas. I’d like to call Thomas the Glover Gardens resident composer, except that he won’t be in residence much longer because he heads to Austin for his sophomore year in just a couple of days. A prolific composer, Thomas has just completed another original and posted the recording on the streaming service Bandcamp.
This one is really lovely – evocative, thoughtful, pensive – and extra-special to me because he dedicated it to his late grandfather (my Dad). They were close, and my Dad was so very proud of my son’s musical talent.
I hope you’ll click and give it a listen.
There will be a lot more original jazz to come, and the posts below provide some of his previous compositions, if you just can’t wait.
My uncle Nathan, my mother’s brother, would have been 70 this month. He was only 40 when he died in 1988. Sad and shocked, I wrote this poem for my Mom at the time and it was part of his memorial service. Just today, I found it while browsing through old files from my Dad’s computer; it is sweet that he kept the poem all these years.
For You, Mom, On Your Brother’s Death
Love, the wind, God, memories: all intangible, all to be touched with thoughts and feelings, not with fingers.
All so precious: lives, souls, people. Does one quit existing when the breath is gone or simply become an intangible, touchable with thoughts, with feelings, like the wind?
Can we not summon Nathan by thinking of him? Is he not crystallized into being in those vignettes of him that we remember?
Isn’t he still the same young man who made risqué remarks about the pantaloons on my doll Elizabeth, because I remember him that way?
Won’t I make a present of a never-known great-uncle Nathan to my children by conjuring his image, remembering him that way?
With the wisdom of hindsight, I wish I had spent more time talking with my Mom while she was still alive about how she dealt with her brother’s death. I didn’t know then that I would also lose a younger brother while in my 40s.
Reading this (clumsy) early poem of mine again in the wake of my Dad’s death just six weeks ago, I still feel the same way about touching the intangibles, conjuring the images of the loved ones through stories and memories. My Dad is sitting on my shoulder right now, next to my Mom.
When you lose someone you love, you go through changes that you cannot control. Some part of you goes away for a while, trying to process it. Some other part tries to maintain the status quo, to “be strong”. You hold some of yourself in reserve, just in case, because the world is not the same and you might need those reserves. It doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable in any way. And while you tiptoe through this dichotomous-quicksand-complex bog of feeling and numbness, all of your people reach out to support you, each in their own way.
Some people say things you will always remember and hold dear. After my brother died a few years ago, my cousin the minister said:Indeed. That was just what I needed to hear that day.
A customer of my Dad’s who had become a friend (because that’s how my Dad did business; he was always a trusted friend and never a salesman), a man who I had never met, sent me a card after we lost my brother that said:
I can’t express how meaningful those words are to me.
And now, after my father’s unexpected death, the people around me, the stars in my sphere of being, are reaching out in their own ways to support me and my family. It is a beautiful and overwhelming humbling experience. So many kind and thoughtful gestures, so many meaningful words and messages of support, so many gifts and acts of kindness and service; too many to name.
But a couple I will highlight; this beautiful gift of wind chimes, personalized with my Dad’s name and dates of life. He was a woodworker by hobby and made me several sets of wind chimes, so it was really special that my colleagues at work gave me this gift. I brought them to Little House in the Rockies, our tiny cabin, and every time I hear them I think of Dad. Click the short video to hear the chimes.
Another “gift” was the sharing of this video made by the son of a colleague. It is a lovely two-minute animation about the stages of grief, and is very comforting and peaceful.
More to come as this processing continues.
Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook (except the Stages of Grief video)