Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kenneth R. Swearingen - My Dad

October 1, 1931 - April 04, 2010

The night before Easter I was in my studio working when my husband Jon told me my Father was in the hospital. I froze as he filled me in on the details from my brothers call. He took ill very suddenly. I somehow imagined the worst. Maybe it was my minds way of preparing myself.
The following day, on Easter morning, my Father died.

I've become very quiet. Kind of weird for me. The weather that day was amazing. A gentle wind all day that seemed to give me peace. A perfect spring day followed by a night sky filled with stars. The handle of the big dipper arched across the sky and pointed directly to Polaris- the North Star - a sign of guidance and direction. In the days to come, I knew I would need that compass. I tried to stay busy. The wind gave me peace, I'm not sure why, but it did. In the quiet hours that followed I let myself feel the pain I'd been pushing away all day. I realized I was alive and my Dad had been gifted a beautiful day on which to go to heaven. For a spiritual man, dying on the day of Resurrection was a gift granted him from above, of that I am certain.

The days that followed were a frenzy of planning, packing, phone calls, airports, schedules and tears. When that subsides there comes a time when the quiet sets in. The flowers faded, the ceremony over, the immediacy of things - done. In that space, one goes over in their head all that's transpired. Fragments of thoughts and feelings that may stay forever ingrained in my head rewind and play over and over.

When my Mom died when I was 15. My clearest memory was of my Dad, my brother and I walking away from her grave site in the cold wet grass. A very alone feeling as we left behind the 'glue' of our family never to be hugged again.
A very alone feeling I have never forgotten. I hate wet grass.
There was no wind that day. Just wet grass and an empty feeling inside.
These recent images are clear now, but they too will eventually fade.
Some will stay I'm certain.
The way the air felt.
The way sunlight came pouring into the church.
The fragrance of all the flowers and incense mixed together.
The faces of friends and co-workers sharing their feelings.
The pain of 'what ifs' that surface in my head late at night when it's dark.
The peace of knowing my Mom and Dad are re-united.
The alone feeling over the loss of both of them.

I think my Father knew he was dying, but kept it to himself. The last secret he could keep was to accept his mortality on his own terms. He wrote his own obituary in the weeks prior to his death. His memorial Mass was just as he would have wanted it to be. The smell of the Easter lilies and other flowers filled the air. It was personal, solemn and ended with a Marine Corp Honor Guard. Nine shots fired into the cloudless sky. A United States flag was ceremonially folded and handed to my brother outside the metal roofed country church he attended. Under the portico, the breeze blew as we stood mesmerized by the careful, calculated gestures these dedicated older Veterans displayed.
I felt relieved Dad had the type of send off he would have wanted.

My Dad was 78 years old. He lived a good life. His death came unexpectedly to all of us. His parents lived well into their 90's and I figured he would too. He outlived two wives and left behind an older brother. He was fortunate to have found love more than once in his lifetime. Not all are so blessed.
At his funeral were people he worked with, his family, his 9 year old neighbor girl and his friends. One of them a young Marine named Ian in full dress uniform. He had befriended my Dad at the courthouse and in doing so found a mentor. His being there struck a cord in me. After he received communion at the altar, he placed his white gloved hand on the box containing my Fathers ashes. He too had lost a friend. So many people knew my Dad on levels so different than how I knew him. He had made his life in the mountains of Georgia and he'd made a difference in other people's lives.

I'm struggling with all that is hitting me. Over the years, I had a challenging relationship with my Dad, but we'd made peace and I knew he loved me. In his post office box were a tin of cookies I'd just sent. He never got them. In his last weeks I shared with him some personal issues I'm facing and he didn't pass judgement on me. That may have been his last real gift to me - the fact he didn't pass judgement. Never would I have guessed that would have been his legacy or in doing so it would mean so much to me.

When we visited my Dads home after the funeral, we found a wind chime hanging in his tree. His gardens were beginning to bloom and life was returning. My brother and I looked at where he'd lived out his final days and we both agreed, he's not there anymore. Ken carefully untied the wire holding the chimes in the tree. The white angel with the broken wing that was in his backyard will come live with us too- wherever we live, and in the wind we'll find peace.

I love you Dad.


Sharon said...

Patricia, I am so sorry for your loss. May your good memories never fade and the sad ones depart quickly.

My parents are in the same age range as your dad was. My heart goes still while reading about your experience after your father's passing, knowing that my time of losing my own parents draws ever nearer.

May you be forever blessed by a compassionate wind.

Mark said...

Sorry to read about your loss, Pat. You wrote a wonderful tribute.

Lisa said...

This was a lovely post. I cannot begin to express the feelings this has evoked, the deep pain yet odd solace that you must be feeling.

I lost my father nearly 4 years ago of his own doing and memories as those you mentioned are still carried on the wind. It is odd the things we remember.

I believe Sharon said it best, that my wish for a compassionate wind is carried on as well.

So many blessings for you, your family, and all of those in whom your dad's memory still lingers.

Ginny Huber said...

Oh, Patricia: This is both so loving touching and so beautiful. I shed some tears reading it; your writing here is a beautiful tribute to your dad. I hope it is helping your grief process to be writing here; I lost my second parent 2 and a half years ago and it is amazing how some of the memories and feelings remain and resurface in the words of another going through this kind of grueling and essential process. Thanks you.

Ginny Huber said...

Oh, Patricia; What a loving and touching and powerful tribute to your Dad this is; I shed some tears, while reading it; I lost my second parent 2 and half years ago and it is truly amazing how those memories of loss can remain and resurface, especially in the feelings and grief experience of another person. This is beautiful; thank you and hugs and good thoughts to you as you go through these days.

Susan aka Suzula said...

Your dad would be very proud of this post... So glad you will soon be part of TEAMEPE. Suz

lavachickie said...

Simply beautiful.

Coyote Soul said...

What a wonderful photo of your dad. Such a moving and lovely remembrance you have written. May the comforting winds embrace you always and bring you peace. Love you, Geri

slinkycat said...

So sorry you lost your father. This is a beautifully written post.
Thoughts and prayers for you.

3 squares said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your post is so touching, a lovely tribute and remembrance.


Roselanoue said... have a wonderful gift with words. You have expressed yourself in such a poetic meaningful way. It was an honest tribute with so much heart. Each day brings us hope, challenges and memories. Thanks for sharing yours.


Big, beautiful, life-full and love flowing tribute to both your Dad and the beautiful nuance in the memory of your Mom. You and your Father live/d life on life's terms, in your individual and sometimes very different ways, but you came together in the end and that's what matters. Healing thoughts and prayers full of strength, peace and love for you and your family.

Ginny Herzog said...

A loving tribute to your dad, Pat. I am so sorry for your loss. May gentle winds carry wonderful memories of the best times shared with your Dad.

Britt said...

I am so sorry for your loss. You're in my thoughts. I hope you continue this way of thinking throughout your life, for it really will help you through things.

- Britt

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