It was the day that the clouds ran across the sky like a river, and somehow my kids knew.
You can’t hide things like that from children. Not even the quiet nuances enfolded into whispered conversations where words like “ventilator” and “not long,” are tossed back and forth, crushing the people on both ends of the line. Both the ones that have to say it, and the ones who hear it for the first time.
The same people who look at the sky after they hang up the phone, and wonder why today is the day, when the sun is shining through the way it is, because it wasn’t supposed to be today.
Somehow, kids know that you are totally different when you hang up the phone.
You’re just thankful that they can’t see your weary face up in the front seat from where they sit in the back, and you are just as thankful that they would rather look out the window at the passing scenery then at your sagging, heartbroken eyes.
But then they ask you how God made everything that we see rolling past our car windows, and you know that somehow, they instinctively and unknowingly realized that today is the day that we needed to talk about such things. To say them out loud to each other and to ourselves.
Today we need segment our thoughts, talk about it how we each see it so that we can piece it all together to really understand. We needed to feel the pain that comes from wondering why the dried sunflowers rustling against the hot wind out in the fields had to die.
I had to tell them that everything fades, even us, because it’s what’s supposed to happen.
But God? He spoke and simply breathed everything into being with one word because He could because that’s just what He does. We are the creation, and we could only breathe life in to our newly dust-formed lungs, and sputter out that first aching breath when He told us that it was time to rise.
I told them how we are all only a few stunted breaths away from dying, but we were surely only ever a word spoken away from existing. How the breathing is what happens to us on a molecular level, but we really didn’t start living until the word was spoken, and the soul appeared. And the soul, clever, wonderful thing that it is, is what rises by the command of the word when the body fades away back to the dust.
And now, your face is in my mind as always, as thoughts turn over one right after the other, as the clouds in the sky run together like a celestial white river against a stark blue backdrop and pool somewhere just over the horizon.
Then I wonder where you go when you close your eyes forever.
I’ve always marveled at sepia toned photographs of loved ones who have passed hanging in wallpapered hallways. I run my fingers over them, smudge their glass corners, straighten them against the flowered wall. Ponder long and hard the smiling faces and the eyes that have closed forever, and I wonder where they went.
And if they knew.
I wonder if my photos, one day, will look old and worn like these do, or if mine will have the luxury of having an Instagram filter veneer, but does that really even matter?
We are the flowers, and the flowers fade. And then, they’re gone. But that’s what flowers are supposed to do. But what’s left of us is actually all of us, and all we need, and we breathe again on the other side of eternity, where the clouds pool just beyond the horizon. And our eyes open again for the first time for the last time, and we see with such clarity the way it’s supposed to be. Even better than all of those times that heartbreak caused us to wonder why and broke and scattered us into a million pieces as we tried to gather ourselves back up to keep going. It’s the things that cannot be shaken that remain, and when that is all that remains, we will have eyes to see, when we have finally been fully gathered.
Only now, you’re gathered one last time, for the rest of time.
And now in my mind I hear the footsteps of a dozen grand children, the voices of four daughters who loved you. A wife who made your meals just the way you wanted them, who always held you together when you probably didn’t even realize it with the flick of her cane and a quick knowing glance from behind her glasses.
I hear all of the conversations in joyful spurts around the Thanksgiving table with the white lace table cloth, and the perfect dressing and gravy. I remember all of the goodbyes on Christmas nights from tired children with red cheeks, their innocent ‘thank you’s’ for their presents, completely high off of Christmas lights and the fudge that was always hidden in the secret cookie tin.
And the sincere pledges shouted into the cold air before the car doors closed that we would all call when we had arrived home safely.
It’s burned into my mind forever, the both of you, standing in the drive way. Two of you as one, waving off the people who make up the negative space around you. And it’s just as much the negative space around someone that creates a life and lets people know that we were here to begin with, we really were. We were more than just the photographs and the eyes that are now closed. We are more than the pine box, the final breath.
How lucky I was to have almost thirty Christmases like that. How sad I am that it will never, ever be the same again. That none of us will. How amazing it was that even when I was thirty, my grandpa would slip me a twenty on the way out the door, his gentle cologne wafting into my nose, and admonish me with a smile and a nod to take care of my mother.
I always said that I would.
And I promise that I always will.