Yesterday evening, I was able to drive to El Dorado, Kansas, to Sunset Lawns Cemetery, and Dad’s gravesite. I arrived just after sunset, as last light was fading in purple and indigo. Facing Dad’s headstone, I looked out to the west. To my left, the high-pitched hum of pipes and gauges and pumps of the refinery accompanied the rhythmic chirruping of crickets, underneath an undulating meson of a Kansas breeze.
It was important to me to be there on the anniversary of Dad’s passing. I wanted to mark the day praying the Trisagion at his gravesite. I wanted to share my heart, how much I missed him. To say again those words I said repeatedly a year ago as my family and I shared his final struggles: “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, to cry a little.
The grief is different a year later. A year ago, it was sharp and fresh and new, chaotic and disorienting. A year later it is still as painful, there are still as many tears which still come at the oddest moments. A year ago, the grief was ever-present, extended out over everything. A year later, it feels deeper, more settled. And a year later, in these recent days, it has been stirring deeper things.
A year ago, I was confronted with the previously unthinkable: the mortality of my father. I prayed desperate prayers for Dad’s healing, prayers that he would rise from his bed and remain a while longer with us. A year later, I am more deeply confronted with my own mortality.
What is this life that I am living? Certainly not the one I envisioned newly emerged from my college graduation. Goals and plans and dreams left undone, mouldering in the pile of the untried and undone. What legacy will be mine after my own departure? My daughters are barely on the way to their adult lives. What have I given them, what am I giving them, that can orient them and shape their hearts and minds such that they embrace beauty, goodness and truth? What have I left my fellow man in the way of love and service that will outlast and outlive me? Do I have anything to give? Even something as ephemeral as an essay, a book, a novel? What sort of son and brother am I? What mercies am I offering to family?
Though we now know Dad’s diagnosis was long in coming, the news for us was so sudden, and our final days with him so short. And yet, what grace we were given in that two and a half months. Maybe God can take such a life as mine, one so lately marked by constraints and struggle, and by that same grace turn it in to something.