Love doesn't end

Yesterday was beautiful. Blue sky. Warm sunshine. It was humid but not unbearable. My bones, joints, and muscles felt okay, so I got up and went hiking in the Cherokee National Forest, which is practically just out my front door. My love of the woods is something I got from my dad, and that's why I chose to go hiking yesterday to mark the day of his death. Also, I needed to be somewhere else, doing anything I could to keep from thinking about the loss.

When I was around fifteen, my dad and I would go walking in the woods around our farm. He would tell me stories about where the brandy distillery used to be, relatives who used to farm the land, or take me to see old abandoned houses that were hidden in the forest. He knew everyone who had lived around there and could tell tales about all of them. One of the most difficult things about having RA is that it limits the amount of hiking I can do. There's nowhere I feel closer to my dad than when I'm in the woods.

Since I've started taking Prednisone, I've been more able to hike. I injured my right knee last week and thought I would not be able to be in the woods on the 31st, but I iced it and kept it elevated, resting as much as possible since last Monday, and by yesterday it was in good enough shape for an easy hike. Today it is stiff and a bit sore, but not too bad. I am hopeful that this is a sign of better things to come.

Speaking of signs, after I had hiked that morning, I came home and decided to mow the lawn. It was during the heat of the day, but I didn't care. I needed distractions, the more the better. So I fired up the mower and got started. It didn't take long before the grief I'd been fighting all day overcame me. I mowed and cried - crying isn't the word, really. Sobbed. Screamed. Fought with myself and my heart. I sat on the back porch in the blazing sun and gave myself over to grief - not only for my father, but for my health, for a broken relationship, for my whole life. In the middle of the day, in the bright light of noon, I was in as dark a place as I have ever been.

And then.

I heard his voice. Right beside me - inside or outside, I don't know - but I heard my dad's voice. He said, "Just think about a field, a big green field on top of a hill, with little puppies playing in the grass. And there are little foxes, and rabbits, and squirrels, and coons, all playing together. Don't be sad - think about what makes you happy."

It may not sound like much, but when I was little and afraid of a storm, I sneaked through the house in the middle of the night to find my dad sitting in the dark. And he put me on his lap and held me because I was afraid. There, in that darkness broken by violent slashes of lightning and explosions of thunder, he told me not to be afraid, not to be worried, but to think about what made me happy. And he used words to paint a picture of a field, with all the little animals that he and I loved so much playing in the grass.

I don't know if the reminder came from my heart or some spiritual source, and it doesn't matter. The important thing is that in that moment, I knew that we were not separated. Daddy was with me. Is with me, all the time. Everything he taught me is still there. All the special times we had together are still there. I have so much of him in me, in my character, in my heart. He taught me to stand by my friends and the people I love and to give of myself whenever I could. He taught me to lighten the burdens of other people, because that is what we're made for. He taught me to pray and told me it was okay to ask for help when I needed it. He taught me to work hard and do the best job I can at whatever I choose to do. He instilled in me a love of music and of the wilderness and both of these sustain me in times of great distress.

Last night, I went to The Willow Tree, which is a local coffee-house and music venue. I sat with friends and listened to music that I know my dad would have loved. I came home and sat out on my back porch, way past midnight, listening to the darkness and the sounds of the wind whispering through the trees. I stared up at the stars. The universe was huge above me - layer upon layer upon layer of stars sparkling through the dark. Long years that light traveled to reach me, there in that place, in that time. And the light being made right now will reach some set of eyes who knows how far in the future. And wherever I am, in whatever form I am in when that happens, he will still be with me.

I love, and love doesn't end. Everything is going to be okay.


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