I didn’t send a Christmas newsletter this year. What was I going to say? Tom and I and the kids are fine, but it was a rough year for Dads?
My father died on March 1st, at the age of 99, and Tom’s father died on October 10th, at 90.
One of my father’s long ambitions was to live to be 100. When I saw him last January he said, “I was born in 1913 and this year is 2013, so I lived to be 100.” When I reminded him that his birthday was the last day of the year, so he had a little ways to go to reach 100, he smiled and said, “Close enough. Close enough.” And I knew he was ready. Six week later he got up for breakfast, got up again for lunch, laid down for an afternoon nap and died quietly in his sleep.
Tom’s father George had a slowly growing brain tumor that reduced his ability to connect thoughts to words, and a progressive lung disease that made it difficult for him to get enough oxygen. His last few days were difficult, but his final hours were peaceful. He lived to be 90 and died in his own bed in the house he built 57 years ago.
Both our Dads lived long and productive lives. They spent their lives doing the right thing rather than pursuing happiness, but they were nonetheless happy men.
My husband’s Aunt Peg died this year, too, 15 days after her only sibling, George, at the age of 84. She had never married nor had children. She was well educated and an artist, but she never had to work for money. Her father left her the income from a family trust, and that supported her, but she had no ownership or control of the trust, and I think she deeply resented this. She was a very private person, but I enjoyed her company and I wish I had taken more time to get to know her.
People grieve in different ways. I joined a church. I was raised a Lutheran, and I’m more liberal than conservative, so I looked for a church affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My father always thought women could and should have whatever career they liked, so I sought out a female pastor. He would have liked Pastor Sarah. My new church has brought me a lot of joy and peace. I think the Lord led me there.
My husband is cleaning the basement. I’ve been telling him for years that he needs to sort through his stuff so the kids won’t have to some day. After his father died he stood in the living room of the house he grew up in and after looking around at 57 years of accumulated stuff, he said, “The kids don’t want it.” Tom is finally going through all his old electronics, cameras, empty boxes, etc. and selling, tossing or donating stuff. If we live to be 99, like my Dad, we have 35 years left to play with our toys, but it doesn’t matter. It’s only stuff.
Things don’t matter. The people we love, and the people who love us back, matter.
I was sent a poem recently that I want to share:
Out of the World There Passed a Soul
The day of my mother’s funeral I spend clearing out
her overgrown flower beds, down on my knees
in the leaf rot, nut shells, tiny grains of sandlot sand
spilling from the runoff gullies. The hot work was to see
not feel what had to be done, not to go on asking,
not to wonder anymore. Full from scraps I’d found
at the back of the refrigerator, her mongrel dog
lay curled on a stone and watched me work.
It was Sunday. The telephone rang, then stopped,
then rang again. By the end of the day, I’d done
what I could. I swept the walk, put away the tools,
switched on the indoor safety lamps, and then
(it hardly matters what I think I felt) I closed
the gate on a house where no one lived anymore.
by Sherod Santos
I get these poems through American Life in Poetry, edited by Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate. Please follow the link to the website.