Sunday, April 29, 2012

Death and Seeds

With my Dad dying, I am obviously thinking about death a lot. I think about Dad's life, such as I remember it and know it, in light of his impending funeral. And I think about my life in connection with my Dad's life, and his dying. There is gratitude. There is respect. There is confusion. There are questions. And there is guilt.

My Dad was born to a farmer, probably a third, fourth, maybe even seventh or ninth generation farmer. Lots of seeds got planted by Hallmans. Lots of life was sustained by my family over the decades and centuries. Many seasons of summer, fall, spring and winter were endured. Accumulated wisdom on how to prepare, when to work, what to do amidst the unexpected. But at the core of farming is this finality: winter is coming. 

To the degree that we forgo cultivating a vegetable gardening, that we buy canned and boxed food at a grocery chain-store, we rarely ever get the reminder to prepare for winter. Or death. Sure there are signposts, funerals of friends, tragic snuffing of life on the nightly news or Redbox movies. But does it lead to our rumination of a life well lived, of seeds well planted, of ground well prepared? Do we take seriously that at the end of the harvest is the cessation of work?

My Dad has planted many seeds during his almost eighty years of life. As a farmer, as a gardner, as a husband, as a pastor. As a son, as fruit of his seed, I contemplate the gift of life he made possible for me. And what am I doing with it? What am I doing with his gift, my life, and the story of his life. The wondering prompts guilt.

It's too easy to plough through the seasons oblivious to the rhythms of the Earth. To miss moments of planting, to skip over the days of cultivating, to ignore the weeding, to resist the waiting, to be distracted during harvest-time, and to misuse the rest and repair that winter offers. I feel like I've missed too many moments with my Dad. With a heart that is already grieving, it seeps with guilt - the finality of death illuminates moments wasted, questions unasked, stories unearthed. 

With Dad's life slowly but surely diminishing, it makes me wish I would have made more of our time together. And so I feel guilty about there not being more when we've reached the point of there never being anymore. There are few more seeds for Dad to plant. Just a few more, and then Dad's spring, summer and fall have ceased. I will revisit the seeds Dad has planted in my life, and realize that it's uncountable. But I will try. 

And I will let the guilt prompt me to feel grace. Death has a way of causing us to grasp. And I feel it strongly. But...that for which I grasp, it was undeserved, a good gift from God. So while I feel guilty for not appreciating my Dad more, I take the next step of being thank-full for the gift of my Dad, that I could appreciate him and be blessed by him. Just another way my Dad's impending death helps me turn seeds of guilt into a basket of life-giving grace.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Death as Winter

It's a beautiful Spring morning. Shadows and sunlight mingle on the green, sloped backyard. A partially planted garden, empty swings, fading daffodils, and a mess of sticks and uncut logs ready for a campfire. This is a good time of year to be alive. Full of potential, of freshness, of possibility, of seedlings and tree buds.

And yet for our family, like too many others, it is a season of Winter in our soul. If life is like seasons, then my Dad is somewhere past Winter solstice and... we don't know. The brain tumor has brought about a bleakness, the cancer has stirred up a flurry of uncertainty and immobility. The prognosis of death, the onset of Winter is very real in this season of Springtime.

Everyone has their own story of Winter, of Death, of a season of fading life, of a tale coming to an end. In my own story with my Dad, I'm searching, reflecting, accepting, discovering, realizing, and mourning.

I'm sad that my Dad is dying, that he has been dying while still living these past seventeen weeks. I'm sad that we didn't have more notice prior to the brain tumor and surgery - the debilitation that followed the procedure robbed us of: that final getaway, the one last family event, the beloved Christmas feast. I'm sad.

The thousand thoughts in my mind, they need to get sorted out. Conversations with family and friends has been helpful. But to write, to filter, to get the right phrase, to write out the ideas, it's needed.

How many billions of people have watched their Dad die? Nothing unique about my experience in the grand and tragic tale of humanity. Except it is for me. And with all the accumulated wisdom out there, I want to help my Dad die well loved. And when my day comes, I want to die well.

So I write in preparation, as a form of action, as a way of healing, of serving, of loving.

"A good reputation is better than a fat bank account.
Your death date tells you more than your birth date.

You learn more at a funeral than at a feast - 
After all, that's where we all end up. 
We might discover something from it.

Crying is better than laughing.
It blotches the face but it scours the heart.

Sages invest themselves in hurt and grieving.
Fools waste their lives in fun and games.

Endings are better than beginnings."