It was the spring of 1975. There needed to be new life in the trees. After all, there had to be a new way of life in our house. My Dad had died at the end of February; February 28th to be exact. Life was different. I was mad at him and my Mom before he died because they hadn’t let me get a new outfit that I just had to have from what was then Leggett’s. For those too young to know that name, it’s now Belk. I had wanted that mint green pantsuit so badly to wear on a trip to see Godspell with the school choir. The money was not there. I cried and of course, like any barely 14 year old girl, fumed in anger that they would’t let me have it. Then the trip was cancelled so I wouldn’t have had the special reason to wear it.
A few days later I cried, not another silly teenage outburst but because my Dad suddenly died. The last days of winter that year would be like none before. On that particular February day, all I wanted to do was to do something. My mother’s sisters and our neighbors flooded into our house to prepare it for the arrival of family and friends. I still remember just wanting to be the one to clean my room, to make up my bed, to put my own stuff away. No one would let me. No one would let me do anything around the house. I finally went out on the front porch, leaned up against a post and watched the school buses as they began taking other students home for the afternoon. It seemed too “normal” so I finally went down to the back of the house and just walked. I walked up and down the creek bed behind our house and the four others around us. I walked and walked, back and forth, until I had cried enough.
No one seemed to notice that I came back. In all the busyness, honestly no one probably had noticed I was gone. Then people began to visit, telling stories that I had never heard about my father: stories of his time in World War II, stories of the factory in Ridgeway, stories of the music he sang and the instruments he played. I got that mint green pantsuit: not to wear to a long awaited outing with teenage friends, but to my Dad’s funeral.
Weeks later as Mom and I made numerous trips to the cemetery and tried to start a new “normal,” the flowers began to bloom, the trees began to bud with the new life of spring. There was a good size hardwood tree, I believe a maple, that stood between the two rows of graves where my father and several of our other family members were buried or had plots. Remember, this was 1975 and folks back then bought those cemetery plots often well ahead of any need. My parents had done that; in fact, they originally bought four plots that included one for my brother and one for me. Thank goodness my mother sold those two many years ago.
Like I had begged for that polyester pantsuit, I remember asking Mom over and over if I could hang something in the limbs of that tree as they spread over Daddy’s marker. First it was a hanging basket of flowers, then a birdhouse. The birdhouse remained there for years. I needed to see hope, life, fruitfulness when I visited that sacred space.
A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to put spring flowers on my Dad’s grave. The tree has been gone for many years now, but the stump remains. This spring, as the flowers were beginning to bloom and the trees beginning to bud, the stump brought more tears than ever. On the heels of the Called General Conference session, it reminded me once again of my broken heart and feelings of loss.
I sometimes find myself telling people that my responses to many situations in these day following the February 26th end of the General Conference session feels a little like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’m coming to believe more and more deeply as I try to deal with this time in my faith journey that there are deep connections between living through my father’s death, walking through Mom’s health experiences and aging during these last four years and losing my church as I want it to be. It’s not exactly the same type of PTSD that so many seriously have to find ways to live with and through, and I often feel badly even attempting to compare it to such deep, deep traumatic experiences. Yet, it is a trauma-related stress reaction that for weeks now has manifested itself as little things like having difficulty speaking the words to describe the experience to more emotional responses of crying and withdrawal.
I made a list earlier this week of all the Maundy Thursday services near us, including our own at Shady Grove UMC. I thought I was ready to enter this Holy Week in the community of faith. I have to confess now that I haven’t gotten myself back to worship yet. For my clergy friends, I know you had to face your congregations immediately after General Conference and I have great admiration for how you were all able to handle that. I could not, and have not been able to do so. But, I thought I was ready this week. After all, what better week could there be to take the next step in mourning to move toward resurrection. I couldn’t, but we sat around the dinner table with Ashley and Lily sharing a meal, looking at the young life in front of me loving the warm, soft bread shared with her. And now, shedding a few tears in the middle of the night.
Wonder if Jesus did the same thing after leaving that last supper? Tonight I have to believe he did, wondering what the tree he was planting would look like in the years to come.