Against bittersweet October fields
shrouded purple and gold in memoriam for you,
you who will always remain eighteen,
the hitchhikers waited scorning funeral black
for jagged jeans and jaunty gypsy skirt.
Backpacks, guitars and exuberant youth
on their way to a concert of the Grateful Dead.
Are the dead ever grateful? Are you?
You who were born too late
and died so young,
would have enjoyed these relics
of the searching, seething sixties
as did I who was born too soon.
The hitchhikers and I talked of relevance
and the meaning of life,
but on the meaning of death
they were silent.
We parted ways
they to continue on in the sixties,
and I to return to the present
and my aching need of you.
Tomorrow, October 3rd, it will be thirty-four years since I held my eighteen year old son John in my arms as he died from cancer. I was able to give him the last gift of dying at home. I wrote about this event two years ago, Oct. 5, 2012 and told the story of my son and what kind of boy he was. If you want to read his story, it’s in the archives.
As I wrote then, his death had me seeking for something that would make it all meaningful, if such a thing existed. I went to college, became a teacher, and taught third grade for twenty very rewarding years. Teaching third graders was mostly delightful, and yes, stressful at times, but it made me feel I was doing something positive, and it awakened the child in me so it was a lot of fun, too.
But something else came out of the tragedy of losing my son, John, and that was writing. In college I had to write research papers, essays, and even wrote a short story that won an award, and found I enjoyed writing. In fact, I went on to get a masters in English, not to further my career as an elementary teacher, but because I missed the reading and writing research papers. But what I wrote for healing was poetry. I wrote an essay “Saying Goodbye” about that last day, and I wrote and am still writing poetry for my son. Every year I put a new poem in the newspaper on the day he left us.
The college papers and the poetry was a start of my writing career, but it didn’t end with poetry. Eventually I started writing mysteries; books and short stories. I’ve always tended to tackle things with enthusiasm. For years I painted and loved doing it. Then there was teaching – a great challenge both creatively and sometimes tedious with grading papers or meetings. Is there anything more boring than meetings? Playground duty? Not so bad except when it’s quite cold and solving the spats. Lunchroom duty? Awful! The noise level and trying to keep kids eating and not talking and fooling around was a pain. “Drink your milk! At least eat a few bites of the vegetables.”
Today I’m a mystery writer and gradually attaining a modicum of success at it. Will I ever be on any best seller list? No! But that doesn’t matter as much as having people read and enjoy my books, and even more it’s using my creativity to plot, create characters and write a satisfactory book or story. I can’t imagine not writing and I’m very content and happy with my life path. Would I have followed this path if John hadn’t died? Maybe I would have, but who knows. I live with what ifs. I’m planning to put together a book of essays and poetry I’ve written since John died. I know poetry doesn’t sell well unless you’re someone like Billy Collins, but the money doesn’t matter as much as hoping it will help people out there on their path through healing.
What if you had lived longer?
What if you hadn’t died when you did?
What if you were still with us?
Where would you be living now?
What career would you now have?
Would you be married with kids?
But you didn’t live past eighteen
so I’ve only memories
now and what ifs.
What events have changed your life?
What “what ifs” do you have?