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One Woman's Opinion

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Just One More Summer

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— The other night when I was out for dinner with friends at Middlesex County’s five-star restaurant, Eckhard’s at Topping, I found myself remembering it was the date of my father’s birthday.

It may have been somewhat of a nonsequitur, but my friend suddenly heard me interject this fact into our conversation. He nodded.

That was all. I went on with the evening laughing and having a good time. Except for one thing; from that point on a vulnerable part of my brain had crossed the ocean. It belonged to Father.

The most fundamental shared human experience in life besides birth is the eventual loss of parents. We experience shock with the loss of a spouse or lover or child. But it seems when a parent goes out to sea, it is merely part of nature’s plan. After all, it is expected that one’s parents will die one day and nothing can be done to prevent the inevitable.

No matter how expected my father’s death was, nor how prepared I had been for it, when it finally came about, it was still in the shock category for me.

I have written much about the loss of my father. Somehow, I have even wished it so, that the act of writing about the death of a loved one will help speed recovery.

As I type these words this morning, I remember Father died June 16, 2001, over 7 years ago. Sometimes I think I have fully recovered. But the truth is, a loss of a parent, especially one that was so well-bonded, is one of the greatest knockdowns in life.

At one time, I thought that Father’s death was the end of me. I lost all energy and desire to live. I certainly did not believe that I would ever write again.

The strange part was that Mother’s death, two years before Father’s, did not affect me the same way. Mother wanted to pass away. Somehow it is easier to lose a parent when that parent is ready to go.

Not Father. As he lay dying that last night in the hospital under the gentle morphine mist, he pleaded for one thing; “I want just one more summer, Mays,” he told me over and over again.” I can still hear his voice asking for just one more summer.

At 91, after a full and happy life, and although his life systems were shutting down, Father was not yet ready to pass on. He was too happy to die, too full of vibrant curiosity and fun. The question that I have asked myself ever since is why should anyone die that is so full of life?

His death was like having the film snap before the movie had run its course; then having to leave the theatre and never quite knowing what happened at the end of the flick.

Emotionally spent, I finally kissed him goodbye and left. All the way home to Urbanna, I thought that I would have done anything—if only I could have given Father just one more summer.

At 6 a.m. the next morning the hospital called with the expected news. Expecting the call did not help. It was as if someone had turned out the lights. From that point on, all color faded and everything I saw was in black or white or intermittent shades of grey.

How I missed his intellectual brightness; how he turned mundane things into sparkling jewels. Anything . . . a leaf just fallen from the sycamore tree in the front yard that was as big as his hand, a fossilized stone found on an Ohio beach, a passing ship on Lake Erie that left only a wisp of black smoke against the great northern sky, the first dandelion of spring blooming on the frigid lawn . . . everything that Father touched became for me something of magic and high excitement.

“Look, Mays! A steam engine! A buckeye! A poodle in the clouds!” When he was gone, that was the end of magic, excitement and the exclamation point.

I kept right on writing my weekly column just as before, of course, although looking back I don’t know how I did it. I got up, dressed each day, carried on with my usual activities and stayed busy. But deep within, where the quality of life really counts, where no outside activity or material thing can ever ignite that blessed inner fire, it was as dead as a discarded bone after the feast.

Slowly, by making a genuine effort to stay busy, the pain subsided. Passing of time can heal such pain. The worst thing is to stay home and grieve. One has to get up and get out of the house every day. As impossible as it is while one is in the stabs of such grief, one still has to keep going.

Years passed before I realized I was once again enjoying things that I had always loved to do. Writing once more became a source of joy. Beloved dogs returned to my life. I am sailing again and enjoying my gardens after years of letting them go to weed.

The good of experiencing such loss if, indeed, there is such a thing, is that one becomes attuned to others who experience loss. We can help each other.  A card or a telephone call from the outside world means everything. Friends and family can help keep one going.

Life miraculously goes on: reminding me of th famous poem by A.E Housman who wrote of a man from his grave wondering who was minding his fields now that he was gone.

Summer is here. We have each been given this gift of one more summer. I resolve to waste no more time on the trivial and unimportant in life; but look upon this coming season with a sense of great gratitude and joy.

Happy summer and see you in September. ©2008

(Note: One Woman’s Opinion will return after Labor Day.)

posted 06.26.2008

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