Posted by: syncopated1 | September 12, 2011

When words fail. Wait.

On a bleak, gray morning I gathered with four generations of my family atop a lone hill on our family farm. Our task that day was a simple and serious one; after almost three years of feeble coordinating we, from my Grandmother to my niece and nephews, had finally come together to spread my father’s ashes on the land he loved so well. The day was September 3rd, my father’s birthday; fitting I felt, strange as well.

I had felt I ought to prepare some words to say. Perhaps out of arrogance in my recent hobby as a writer, or maybe because it would have been appropriate, either way in all the attempts I made to this end, my words failed me and the failure ate at me.  I’d think on Papa and find myself devoid of the ability to express him, myself, how i felt about him. Except the frustration that arose from such endeavors. I am not a helpless man; I have learned this, with increasing certainty since Papa passed, through the strength of my family and myself that I am able. But I wasn’t.

I struggled with this all the way north on the 2nd with my brother, all the way through cooking the popovers that Papa taught me how too, and all the way up the hill behind the farm house with my niece Ivyn-Annie happily bouncing on my shoulders. I focused on keeping my niece smiling, distractedly following my mother’s instructions for our exercise. She lead us around the farm road to one of the piles of rocks that my siblings and I had pulled out of the fields when I was younger; it was overgrown with weeds now. There were soft jokes and quiet laughter as we each selected a stone to be included as the marker for Papa’s passage back to his earth. With Mama’s Element loaded up, we trooped back around and up the most prominent knoll on the farm.

From oldest to youngest we each spread a portion of the ashes on the land. In silence I watched as Gramma said soft, peaceful words. In silence I watched Uncle John, Papa’s brother, take his turn; his face impregnable, as lost in thought as the rest of us. Mama took her turn, and mentioned a group of friends she and Papa used to know, and then my sisters, then my brother. Silence. In silence I took my turn, frantically searching within myself for last minute inspiration. And in silence I stepped back and let my nephew Eli, the only grandchild my father had known, and then Ivyn also take turns. The rest of the remains committed to the field, Mama asked for the stones, and silently somehow I had come to take charge of their orientation. Mama had pictured a simple stone cairn, but, again silently, I stacked the stones much in the way Papa had all over the farm, and when my sister and I finished I looked up and was greeted with smiles at the result.

Last to leave the hill my sister Leah and I stood in quiet observation of our work. With a sigh I mentioned that, “that was that,” and Leah looked at me and said, “No, it’s only punctuation.”

And in that moment my struggle to find words was no longer a struggle, it just was. It had to be a part of the process. The process that never ends. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me there is no “closure,” no “getting over” my father’s death. Like Leah said, there’s only punctuation; punctuation that leads into a slight shift in focus. I suppose that my feelings toward the last three years of my life are ineffable to some level, but that too, is simply punctuation in the process.



  1. I know he knows the treasure he left behind with you kids. I would say you got your mind right on this one. Peace.

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