It’s amazing that my most significant & life-changing memories are directly related to nature.
As I have mentioned, we lived on a small 5 acre farm in Ohio from the time I was two until I was eight. We spent much of the day outside tending to our two horses, a cow, two pigs, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs. My pony was my best childhood friend at that point.
My parents got married shortly after high school. My mother stayed home with my brother and I. He was five years younger. My father worked and sometimes traveled on business. I loved spending time with him on the weekends. He was tall, handsome and had a commanding personality. He could be very charismatic. He could also be short-tempered. On Saturdays, I would go to the hen house to gather eggs and he would sit me on the counter by the stove while he made cheese and mushroom omelettes for us to share. I can still picture him opening the little can of mushrooms.
Back then, watching TV was something we only did on weekend evenings. I remember my mom would give me a bowl and I would walk clear back to the edge of our property to pick blackberries. I would fill the bowl and eat some on my long way back. She would pour cream over them and sprinkle them with a little sugar and we would eat them together while we watched “Little House on the Prairie” or “The Waltons”. Those are still warm memories.
My dad and I were buddies. He would let me sit on his lap while he drove the tractor from the house to the barn carrying water in the wagon behind it for the animals. We would take a break from our chores and eat our sandwiches together. Always cut in half making two triangles with a dill pickle on the side. He would take me out to run errands. Errands were an adventure back then because we lived pretty far from any stores. My brother was just a baby and I was proud to be a “big girl” and be able to go with him. He would call me “Shorty” because for every step he took, I had to take two to keep up. He would hold my hand as we walked. It was warm and soft and would envelope my whole hand. I felt safe with him then.
Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I turned eight. My brother was three. It was a very tumultuous time. It was physically and emotionally violent at times. In some ways, we were all relieved that those times were coming to an end.
We had to sell our home. My mother, brother and I moved into a nearby apartment and my father moved to another city. We struggled for money but my father went on to financial and personal success. As you can imagine, that only drove a bigger wedge between us all.
The divorce was hard on all of us and the relationship between any and all of us suffered greatly. I no longer felt safe or protected with my big strong father, as I once did. My mother fell into a deep depression that lasted for several years and I had to grow up very quickly as my problems became more adult like at a very young age.
In the years that followed, my dad and I experienced difficult seasons of being closer and further apart by both our doings. Neither of us knowing how to recover or how to forgive one another.
As any young daughter does, I strived for my father’s approval. He didn’t show it easily and the long intervals between our visits didn’t help. Our relationship began to improve as we both matured and had more life experiences. And, as I began to find my voice. There was much work to do and we were discovering our common ground and gaining mutual respect.
I had two children and he was a warm and generous grandfather to them. He would come from Florida to visit us twice a year. His last visit was at Christmas time. Christmas was very special to him. But, when his car arrived, a thin pale figure emerged. No one was expecting that image. He explained it away saying that he had pneumonia and was being treated accordingly. Otherwise, he had been a healthy 54 year old man. His birthday was July 27th.
He returned to Florida and over the next few months would call to tell me that he was recovering and gaining weight. On June 25th, we got a call that dad was in the hospital in a lot of pain. He told us not to come because they were awaiting test results.
The next morning my husband, two girls and I got up to work in the yard, our usual weekend activity. Our property back up to woodlands, so there is always much work to be done. We were going about our business and my dad was on my mind when suddenly my husband turned the mower off and I was struck by the deafening silence. Something made me stand up from my weeding at the edge of the forest and look up into the trees. I began to notice a low dull roar in the distance. It was the wind. It was building slowly like a tidal wave, rustling the bright green leaves high in the canopy along its way. I could hear it coming and I could see the tree trunks sway like wind chimes as it got closer and closer. As it approached, something prompted me to completely surrender to the crash of warm air as it broke through the trees and enveloped me. A certain peace came over my whole body; a knowing that silently over-took me. My father was going to die. A thought that never occurred to me until that very moment. A moment when I felt instantly en-wrapped, supported against the very weight of such a heavy notion; a life-altering notion. A message that could only come from the Divine. It took the rest of the day for that truth to really sink in.
Later that night, I was able to talk to my dad in the hospital. He had a defiant tone. When he finally mentioned the test results he said it might be lymphoma. When I pressed for more information, he became agitated. “If it’s a tumor, we’ll cut it out. If it’s not, we’ll do radiation,” he quipped. I thought he was mad at me. He often was. “I’m sorry you are in so much pain, Dad,” I said. “I love you.” “I love you, too,” he replied and we said good night.
That night, I got a call at 3 am. I knew before I even reached for the phone. My father had died. In that moment all of the stages of grief rushed over me at once. Losing a parent is profound. His father, my grandfather had just passed a few short months before and my dad took that loss hard. My dad was one month shy of his 55th birthday. Nothing made sense in the real world yet in the storm of all those emotions, I somehow knew that I was not alone and that I was going to be okay.