Some people liken their dad to John Wayne; mine was more like Walt Disney. Very energetic, creative, and curious.
He loved parades and fireworks and exploring. He never saw a road without wondering where it led and what it was like.
He loved plants and knew all about them, especially unusual primitive plants. He raised roses and cultivated bonsais.
He loved astronomy and knew all the constellations and major stars.
One day a chest x-ray showed a dark spot in one lung. It was cancer. They said he had about 4 months left.
They gave him a series of radiation treatments which would not stop the cancer, but kept it from becoming painful.
He died at home, 1 day short of the predicted 4 months.
His funeral was the first family funeral I attended. Our family has the tradition of attending a church funeral, then moving to the cemetery for a graveside ceremony.
Unlike most such services, our family remains at the gravesite until the casket is lowered and the grave is filled in. During the filling, each person takes a handful of dirt and tosses it into the grave.
One of my aunts noticed my hesitancy to come forward and toss the dirt. She looked at me: "Go ahead. Give him back to the earth"
My aunt was a likable person, but in that moment I hated her. I hated life itself. I hated everything. Most of all I hated that my dad who so exemplified life with his optimism and boundless energy was dead. It hurt. It didn't fit. It wasn't right.
I took a handful of dirt and threw it into the grave, more in defiance than acceptance.
That spring became one of my darkest seasons.
The lady I hoped would grow to love me turned away from me instead.
Everything I wanted my life to be and become seemed unattainable.
At times, the darkness was overwhelming, but with lots of prayer and some good therapy, the total sadness gradually gave way to light. The protective numbness faded away and I could feel again.
A few months later, I was back in the same cemetery.
The aunt who had angered me at my dad's funeral had died; sudden, but not unexpected.
I tossed in a handful of dirt. This time I understood.
Death is part of the deal; it's part of the natural order of things.
We don't have to like it, but we have to accept it.
Even so, life is good.
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