Remembering a Deceased Parent: One Year Later

RaphaelandGrandpa,downsized
I had been told. Now I know for myself. Life will not be the same anymore.

Today it has been one year since my father passed away as Mom and we children kept vigil by his side. We had suffered with him through Alzheimer’s for several years. I was very grateful that right up to when he lost consciousness—or I should say the ability actively to interact with us, which was about a day before he died—Dad always recognized me. Never a hesitation. No matter how his day was going, how confused he might have been, when I walked through the door, “Hi John.” Followed by a pucker to give me a kiss.

Now I have the rest of my life on this earth to hold him in memory; though not in my hands. There are many things I’ll fondly remember—too many to mention, or count. I’m especially grateful that I can still hear his voice. Saying my name.

It is remarkable how a parent remains with us in ways hard to put a finger on. I sense my father’s presence in how I think, feel, and act. His phrases on my lips; his world-view in my eyes. Not all the memories are bright—to say otherwise would be untrue. But the not-so-good are softened, and even suffused with the good.

Just a few weeks ago we celebrated my first birthday since Dad’s death. Mom wrote to me in a birthday card that she knows how happy Dad was when I was born. I wish I could remember that for myself.

But maybe I can. Perhaps we recall, or in some sense retain, more than we think we recall from our early life. They say that those born with the umbilical cord around their neck have a fear of being strangled. If so, then it seems that things can indeed ‘come through’ from very early in life, can be held in a sort of sub-conscious memory. And surely this means the good things too. Especially the good things.

I know that my father held me, just as in the photo above he is holding my second son. Neither I nor Raphael have, or ever will have, a conscious memory of being cradled in his arms. But neither one of us, I am convinced, would be the same, had he not.

Photo: Christie N. Cuddeback (December 21, 1933-September 16, 2013) holding Raphael Christie Cuddeback, the day after birth. We miss you, Grandpa; and we’ll be holding you, in our hearts, until the day we hold each other again.

Here is the eulogy that I gave, and posted, a year ago.
Here is an article I posted at Front Porch Republic reflecting on how we buried my father.
Here is a gallery of photos of the funeral and burial, courtesy of Spiering Photography.

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A Good Boy at Heart

BeskowBoySheep

A Good Boy
By Robert Louis Stevenson

“I woke before the morning, I was happy all the day,
I never said an ugly word, but smiled and stuck to play.”

Can a man be like a boy again? The boy’s business is to stick to play; my business is to stick to business. And still avoid ugly words. And smile.

“And now at last the sun is going down behind the wood,
And I am very happy, for I know that I’ve been good.”

How many of my days end in the knowledge that I’ve been really good? Happy indeed would be such a confidence.

“My bed is waiting cool and fresh, with linen smooth and fair,
And I must off to sleepsin-by, and not forget my prayer.”

Forgetting prayer is not the worry. Making the time to do it, and kneeling down even when exhausted and discouraged—that is the challenge.

“I know that, till tomorrow I shall see the sun arise,
No ugly dream shall fright my mind, no ugly sight my eyes,”

Days are punctuated with ugly sights; dreams too not immune to such encroachment. Can I but preserve my children?

“But slumber hold me tightly till I waken in the dawn,
And hear the thrushes singing in the lilacs round the lawn.”

Slumber rarely holds me tightly, or even till the dawn.
But when the sun arises, birds will indeed be singing; and if there’s enough of a good-boy’s heart in a man, he will hear them even still.

R.L Stevenson (1850-1894) is the great Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and other classics.

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The Fall of Acorns

Acorn,Peattie

“When the oak-tree is felled, the whole forest echoes with it; but a hundred acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze.” Thomas Carlyle

That time of year is almost here. The first acorns are appearing on the ground. Soon unnoticed breezes will be planting acorns by the hundreds.

What is it about acorns? So much beauty and power in their origin, and in their future. And an under-stated elegance in their present. That little cap of theirs—seems as though it covers a little head full of thoughts of life, birth, and growth.

But acorns are also a food; an irreplaceable staple of woodland mammals—from squirrels and raccoons to deer and black bears. And pigs, taken to the forest to forage.

Where do they really come from anyway? If I think I have grasped their origin, then perhaps I have not yet comprehended my own ignorance; or my own origin. But greater ignorance it would be, not to be grateful—grateful for this astounding combination of beauty of form and functionality, the acorns that grace our landscape.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was a Scottish author and social critic, known among other things for his commentary on the industrial revolution.

Image credit:  The acorn of a bur oak. Donald Peattie, naturalist, author, artist.

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Last Chance to Plant

Chard

“Do remember that each kind of work has its season…” Hesiod, Works and Days

A simple, mundane truth about the end of August. The mid-Atlantic growing season is moving toward its completion, so now is the last opportunity in the garden to plant something that can grow to fruition this year—such as a few more radishes, or greens. Time is short.

But all life, and dare we say all good things, start as ‘seeds.’ Seeds sown by someone; in love. And so all of us need to be, in some sense, sowers of seeds–of various kinds.

And there will come our last chance to plant—in this person, in this community, in this place… whatever the kind of seed. Perhaps even just a word of praise, or gratitude.

In the bustle of life, we might miss the last chance to plant in the garden. We should be especially careful not to miss other last chances to plant seeds.

 

Photo: Swiss Chard: one of the gardener’s most dependable and nutritious delights; it will grow right up to and beyond the first frost. Like other hearty greens, planted in August it might over-winter if well-mulched.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead.

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Hearing the Shenandoah

shenandoah-river1

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you…” American Folk Song, traditional

What is it about hearing a river? This past spring I stood next to the flooding Mississippi in St. Paul, Minnesota; the sound was positively forbidding. But perhaps there is something even more awesome in the quiet, unhurried flow of a river in summer. Like the Shenandoah that lies outside my window, and down the hill.

No one knows for sure the context of the lyrics of the great song. One thing is clear: someone is in love; and the love is intertwined with that rolling river. The words, and melody, capture a longing—a longing that somehow we all seem to share. Especially when we hear that song, or that river.

Fouled by industrial excess, haphazard housing development, and the carelessness of too many of us who recreate there, the Shenandoah nonetheless continues to be itself. A feast for the eyes, and for the ears, it still speaks to us.

Oh Shenandoah; I do indeed long to hear you. Would that we could hear you better.

 

Sissel and Paddy Moloney perform Shenandoah.

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Nothing Incomplete, Nothing in Vain

Oak,Peattie

“Now nature makes nothing incomplete, and nothing in vain…” Aristotle, Politics

Sometimes we might wonder about Aristotle. Was he observing the same world we are?

One thing is clear: Aristotle spent much time studying the natural world. For instance, his knowledge of fish, including their distinction from mammals of the sea, is vast. Indeed he is considered the father of biology. Surely his judgment about ‘nature’ is rooted in his empirical knowledge.

But his judgment stems not simply from a close study of earth, plants and animals. Somehow his perception has been honed—or in any case not blinded—so that he can see more than earth, plants, and animals. In them. He grasps something deeper: an order, indeed an intention, that at once reveals itself, and remains hidden. An order and intention that is not ours; but certainly not alien. Here is an object of wonder, of reverence.

To some of us his vision might seem to be a reading-in, an imposition on reality. But isn’t it always so—that those of us who do not see, think that those who can see are telling tales?

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image credit:  Quercus Alba, the great eastern white oak, king among trees. Donald Peattie, naturalist, author, artist.

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Throwing Nothing Away

SeedsandFlower

“Nature like a good householder throws away nothing of which anything useful can be made.” Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals

It is delightful to think that nature already does what I am supposed to be doing: be a good householder. What a gift it is to me that my calling, my challenge is to imitate and participate in a marvelous order already being enacted all around me.

What might appear as profligacy in nature—perhaps the countless dandelion seeds, or the showers of acorns—is in reality a well-measured abundance. Even generosity. Humans might waste seeds. Nature does not.

Everything in nature has its place. But we humans sometimes shape for ourselves things that really don’t belong. Then, we need to throw some things away.

There are many real needs to be fulfilled: our own, and others’. There is no call for extravagance, and no place for waste. But well-ordered generosity can be the measure in our homes, in our lives. As it is in nature.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

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