In a few minutes it will no longer be November 16th. Today, like that Wednesday in 2011, was my younger daughter’s birthday. Only then she was seven, and today she turned 18. My heart is full.
Today we celebrated, we worked, and we celebrated some more. In the midst of all of that, I had little time to remember. But sitting now in the quiet, watching the minutes change on the digital clock glowing in the dark from the oven in the kitchen, I find myself thinking back.
In a few minutes, it will be November 17, the date of that Thursday eleven years ago when my Daddy took his last breath in our world and found himself somewhere else, leaving us to here to do what I could never imagine myself being able to do without him–carry on.
As I brush the dust off the memories of those days, it’s funny what I find tucked away: the beggar lice that were found on all of us from the graveside service and us laughing about it after the funeral as we tried to pick them off, cutting Daddy’s tea olive to have greenery for his casket, looking out the window after he took his last breath, the bluest skies above us as we gathered at the old country church, the sound of the bagpipe I think he’d have been pleased to know we had play just for him, the way all his nieces and nephews and family gathered just as they’d done two weeks before for our annual fall get together…..
But this year, one particular memory keeps playing on repeat. My Daddy’s oldest brother was a fairly quiet man. He was smart and witty and was interesting to talk to–when he spoke, we listened. He and I had a joke that went back to when I was very little and I accidentally called him “Aunt” instead of “Uncle.” From that point on, he was Aunt Dan and he called me Uncle Tara. It made me laugh every single time. It still does to remember it.
On Saturday, two days after my Daddy passed on, we buried him in the country cemetery where he used to go mow the grass and pull weeds–the one where his grandparents and other kinfolk are buried. Daddy had wanted to start working on repairing some of the gravestones, but sadly his declining health made that impossible. It was his wish to be buried there, and thankfully we were blessed to be able to make that happen. After the visitation earlier that morning with friends and family, the funeral where we laughed and cried and spoke of better days, we went back to the house for a feast provided by hands that blessed us more than they could know. (Holy work that–preparing funeral food. I truly believe it is.) After cousins and second cousins played and promised we’d see each other soon, family started that slow process of a Southern goodbye. My Uncle called me into the living room, where Mama’s daybed she’d used to sleep close to Daddy still was and where Daddy’s hospital bed wasn’t anymore. We both leaned against the daybed. Uncle Dan looked at me the most serious I’ve ever seen him and said, “Now is when it’s going to get hard for your Mama. The next few weeks. Now that everyone is heading out and heading home. Now is when she’s going to need you to be here for her.” I told him I understood (I didn’t, not really, how could anyone who hasn’t walked that path yet?) and I hugged him and thanked him, and we said our goodbyes.
My uncle and my aunt have gone through the greatest of losses not once but twice. They know grief. They know how unpredictable and the raw kind of hard it is. But that day, they showed up for us. And in the midst of yet another loss, he took the time to share with me what he’d learned.
And continue showing up.
I just keep thinking about how he looked as he told me, hearing the timbre of his voice. I can see Mama’s patchwork quilt on the bed….all made up. I don’t remember who had been sleeping in that bed while my siblings were there from out of town, but it was tidy and everything was in its place and also nothing was. My world had been turned upside down at 4:30 pm just two days before and I had no clue what else was coming at us. But my Uncle Dan knew the key. Showing up.
We need community, don’t we? We need those who will show up and be there and listen or just “sit in the dark with us,” as my friend Hugh Hollowell says. We need to feel the presence of another.
I am sad that I haven’t always heeded his words. I have failed many times. Maybe that’s why I keep hearing his words on this day (for now the clock has turned another page, and it is the 17th)–a reminder that I have people I need to show up for. Who I want to show up for. We need each other, leaning on each other, as we walk together on this path between the dates on the faded stones in the midst of the grass and dandelions and beggar lice.
Love to all.