Grief Post - My Father's Birthday
Today, March 1, 2017, is the day my father would have turned sixty-nine years old. Instead, he's frozen at sixty-eight and a quarter because his poor heart gave out in the middle of the night last June.
I couldn't sleep last night. It's easier to ignore Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and Day because they are not days where I celebrated my father specifically. Today I am both at work like normal and re-feeling some of the feelings of that horrifying day I found out I wouldn't see him again.
But here's some hope, or at least a coincidence I can read into whatever I want.
June 7th of last year, just after he died, I took a walk around the athletic fields at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Wauwatosa. It was a beautiful day with a gentle sunset and everything was perfect except my world was torn apart. It had been good to escape the squared-off corners and lobby music of the hotel where my family had gathered, and the quiet day at the athletic fields had a meditative, big-sky quality. Rounding the soccer field and heading back to the hotel, I saw a deer at the edge of a small patch of woods. She looked at me, and I looked at her, and then she headed back to the trees. How unexpected. I had crossed a four-lane highway to get from the hotel to the field, and the area was defined by manicured lawns and midrise office park towers. But there was a deer, eating grass, doing deer stuff. I wanted to take it as a sign.
This past Sunday, February 26th, I visited Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, where my father's body is interred. It was unseasonably warm and I rode my bike to and through the gigantic cemetery grounds to the mausoleum. Rosehill occupies almost a square mile and is situated on the corner of two busy Chicago thoroughfares but the city noise drops away as you move toward the interior. It was quiet and peaceful as I biked through. I stopped in a hurry, though, because there in the middle of the cemetery, munching on grass, was another deer, deep in the city, far from where I'd expect to see such a creature. He looked up at the sound of my brakes, gave me an oh-I-guess-you're-here look, and went back to his meal. I just watched for a few minutes. Eventually he moved on his way and I continued to the mausoleum, where I had my first experience of taping a birthday card to a grave.
In such hard days, when I've been overwhelmed with the significance of his life and his death, I had calm visitors. The coincidence of timing is striking. In this time of canyon-deep pain and trackless confusion, if I'm going to gingerly place my faith in anything, I want it to be that somehow, somewhere, my wonderful dad is free from his back-bending burden and is sending me deer to say hi.
My uncle recently said something that reminded me of Martin Luther King's observation that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." These days in America, I think we're seeing that the arc is indeed really long, and we have such a long way to go, but it is so important to me that it bends the right way, toward justice. If so, I feel like I can count on my dad being somehow okay.
Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for the deer. I love you.