“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.” –Neil Gaiman.
25 years ago today, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. My mother found him, lying face down in the cold and snow in our backyard.
I never got to say goodbye. Never got to tell him how much I love him, how grateful I was to have him in my life, how proud of him I was. How much I adored him.
Still, my greatest consolation is the knowledge that he is now home with the only One who could love him more than I. And I often feel his presence, both his and my mom’s and I know deep down that neither of them has ever truly left me, as much as I miss their physical presences …the hugs, the smiles, the laughter.
Shifting the Sun
When your father dies, say the Irish
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the Welsh
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the British,
you join the club you vowed you wouldn’t.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.
When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever
and you walk in his light.
From the book Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratidude
My parents have been dead a long time. Or not so long. It depends on my mood, how long it seems. My mom died in April 2007, my dad in January 1993. I often wonder what advice they would give me now, about being childless, being disabled and in chronic pain and often frustrated and depressed. Then, by chance, today I came across a quote that spells out what I know in my heart they would both say to me so perfectly, it gave me chills. In fact, I can hear my mom’s voice…
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
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The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.
My dad died suddenly, face down in the snow, 24 years ago today. It’s somehow unsettling to realize I’ve lived half of my lifetime without him, when on that nightmare day 24 years ago, I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
Most days are okay, are fine. But there are still times, like today, when I miss him so much I can sense my broken heart twisting, aching, inside my chest.
The thing about broken hearts, though, is that even though they never fully heal, they get bigger, and stronger, and filled with more and more love. They become works of art.
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly–that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.
I still miss you, daddy, but I’m so grateful I had you for 24 years, and that I have so many comforting memories and stories of you, and most of all, I’m so grateful you and mom taught me how to love.
And thank you for teaching me to dance with a limp.
Nine years. It’s been nine years since I last saw my mother’s heartstoppingly beautiful smile. I miss you mom, miss you so much my heart aches and I can’t catch my breath. You were right, of course, I turned out to be stronger than I ever thought I could be–after all, I never thought I could live or ever be happy again without you–but oh, how I miss that warm, generous, beloved smile. And oh, what I’d give for one more hug. Just one more…
The absence of that presence is everywhere. (Patricia Hampl)
My only real comfort today is the same as it was then, that you are at home with the only One who could love you more than me. And that someday, that same One will wipe away all our tears, and we will all be together again, and there will be no more goodbyes, ever.
One of my theology professors used to refer to Christians as “Easter People”. Which we are, of course, since the death and resurrection of Christ are the founding events of our faith. But what does it mean, really…what are the implications for our everyday lives?
It means that we are never without hope. It means that all creation is redeemed and sanctified. It means that the final goodbye of death is, in reality, not forever, that Christ by his rising from the dead has forever conquered death, that although we may be parted from our loved ones for a time, someday we will be together again. It means that we have faith that our final destiny is to live forever with God, that our death is, in fact, a homecoming. And it means that we are loved, infinitely, amazingly, wonderfully loved by God, in manner far beyond our limited human comprehension.
So the question remains: How do we live our lives in response to the Easter event? I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the serious business of Christianity is joy. Joy because our world is forever transformed, that no matter how ugly the news is, no matter how awful the presidential race becomes, we know that ultimately we are redeemed, that God calls us each by name. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong somehow to feel sadness, grief, anger, discouragement…all normal human emotions. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s some kind of sin to suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It simply means that we understand that loss and grief, trauma, physical pain and illness,even evil, don’t have the last word; the God who loves us each beyond our wildest imaginings and who never leaves us does. So how can we possibly, if we really believe what we say we do, live our lives in any other way but in joyful, hopeful gratitude?
Break the box and shed the nard; Stop not now to count the cost; Hither bring pearl, opal, sard; Reck not what the poor have lost; Upon Christ throw it all away: Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Build His church and deck His shrine, Empty though it be on earth; Ye have kept your choicest wine– Let it flow for heavenly mirth; Pluck the harp and breathe the horn: Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?
Gather gladness from skies; Take a lesson from the ground; Flowers do open their heavenward eyes And a Spring-time joy have found; Earth throws Winter’s robes away, Decks herself for Easter Day.
Beauty now for ashes wear, Perfumes for the garb of woe, Chaplets for dishevelled hair, Dances for sad footsteps slow: Open wide your hearts that they Let in joy this Easter Day.
Seek God’s house in happy throng; Crowded let His table be; Mingle praises, prayer and song, Singing to the Trinity. Henceforth, let your souls always Make each morn an Easter Day.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)*
*Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest and English poet
The last of the Resch boys, the five sons of John and Bertha Resch, was laid to rest earlier this month. He wasn’t the last-born, but he was the last to die; an entire century passed between the birth of Leo, the eldest of the five, and the death of Albert. But for those of us who loved them, my father and my uncles, a century wasn’t nearly enough time to have them with us.
My Uncle Al, the last surviving brother, died of pneumonia on January 6, 2016. Today would be his 88th birthday.
I feel as though my heart is broken and bleeding, scattered into dozens of pieces. I always adored my Uncle Al (I think all of his nieces did). More than that, however, he’s been like a second father to me ever since I lost my own 23 years ago. In fact, the moment he walked into my dad’s wake, I flung myself into his arms and asked him if he would give me away when I got married. Which, of course, he did. Miracle of miracles, he even wore a tux for the big event, which according to my Aunt Mickie was quite an amazing phenomenon. (I’m not entirely sure my own father would have agreed to wear one, actually.)
All of the Resch brothers were handsome, with easy grins and athletic builds. Although my dad, Leonard, was nine years older than Al, I loved watching them together because not only did they resemble each other physically, but they shared the same mannerisms, gestures, verbal expressions, and quirky sense of humor. And they were both just magic with kids. And animals. And growing things. All of those brothers had a strong nurturing, gentle streak. And talk about salt of the earth! If you needed them, you didn’t even have to ask–they were already there. I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character by what they take for granted. Well, those boys, every one of them, simply took for granted that one is there to help. To be kind. To be strong for you when you felt weak.
So many memories…The day after my dad’s funeral, I called my Aunt Barb in a panic, asking her to come over because mom and I’d had a stupid fight over nothing, and she was hysterical. I’d never seen my mother like that. In no time at all Aunt Barb was there, to talk to my mom in a way that I, submerged in my own grief, couldn’t. And Uncle Al was there too…I just recall clutching the flag from my dad’s casket and sobbing, endlessly, in his arms, while he patted my back and let me cry myself out.
He even came to stay with us a couple of times to help us with major repairs on the house–it was a beautiful turn of the century structure, but required constant upkeep. (That’s another thing about those Resch boys, they could fix anything!) While he was here, Uncle Al and I had a number of long talks, and he related stories about my dad, his Army service, all kinds of things I never heard from anyone else. So in a way, Uncle Al gave me the gift of my father. Just as he became a second father to me, for 23 years.
And of course, being a Resch brother meant mischief. It meant that one existed in order to tease and make the lives of their children, younger siblings, and nieces and nephews difficult! My dad always got this special twinkle in his blue eyes right before he was about to tease me, and so did Al, who called me “Sparky” all through my teen years because of my red hair and, er, temper. Furthermore, all through my teen years, every time a boy paid any attention to me, I was terrified my dad would find out–because I’d never, ever, hear the end of it! Everything was grist for the teasing mill. But they were always sweet, never mean or cruel in their teasing. We–children, nieces, and nephews–all knew it was a sign of affection, and we loved it.
Leo, Leonard, Tony, Al, and Frankie. One blog post can never do them justice, but this has to be written. As one of the nieces, and as Leonard’s daughter and only child, I feel compelled to write something to honor their passing, to tell whoever might stop to read this how truly special these brothers were. To give witness to the huge void they have left behind. And to honor the amazing legacy they have left for their children, their nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
Al’s death has left a lot of broken hearts. Yet, like his brothers, he also was a man who took a great deal of solace from his faith, and those of us left behind do as well; we know that, someday, God promises to wipe away every tear, that death will be no more, that goodbye is not forever. And in the meantime we have our memories, our stories, to share and cherish. We know that they are never far away from us. And most of all, we know that love never ends.
Al lived in Montana, where he and my beloved late Aunt Mickie raised eight children. Some of my favorite memories are of the trips daddy and I took to visit them all! It is fitting, somehow, that he lived in Big Sky Country, because when I think of him I picture enormous, unending blue sky, and sunshine, laughter and stories and a love even vaster than the sky above.
So goodbye for a while, darling Uncle Al. I hope you know how much I loved you and always will, and what a difference you made in my life.
In paradisium deducant te angeli May choirs of angels lead you into paradise in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres and at your arrival may the martyrs welcome you; et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. may they bring you into the holy city, Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, May the holy angels welcome you, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere and with Lazarus, who lived in poverty, aeternam habeas requiem. may you have everlasting rest.
Until my father died suddenly, on a snowy, cold January day 23 years ago yesterday, I always assumed the word “heartache” was simply a metaphor.
Now I know better. I don’t feel it every day anymore, thank goodness, but I still do, a lot more often than I’d like, as though a cold, clammy hand is squeezing my heart until it hurts. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I double over from the pain, and wail, keen, at the top of my voice. I remind myself, repeatedly, that “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I’m not trying to be maudlin, or melodramatic. Just honest about the intensity of the grief, partly because I know I am not the only one who lives with this deep aching void, even though our society doesn’t encourage us to talk about it.
And it’s good to talk about our losses, our grief. To share our stories. The pain never goes away completely, but together, we can help each other heal. Heal to the point where our memories bring us joy, not pain, and our hearts, although cracked, are even more able to love compassionately than before.
The absence of you Carved a hole in my chest, still aching despite the passing of time. If I could talk to you now, fix my gaze upon your face, or rest in your unwavering embrace I wouldn’t let go, I’d say I couldn’t get through. Nothing could have prepared me for the absence of you. –Sarah Elle Emm
yes, pray for Paris
before They attacked Paris
They bombed Beirut
They brought down a Russian airliner
They killed one hundred in Egypt
They have slaughtered thousands in Syria and Iraq
and they are not done yet
so pray not just for Paris
pray for Our entire broken, bleeding, world
for We are all in this
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