It was a beautiful summer day without a cloud in the pale blue sky. I was a happy-go-lucky nine-year-old, soon to be ten, without a care in the world. On this particular day, my older brother Wayne was riding in the truck with my dad, a grain hauler in eastern Washington. They were hauling wheat from the elevators in the fields to the elevators in town. My younger sister Kay was at a friend's house and I was going to spend the day with my mom replacing a broken window in the playhouse.
The playhouse had been built by my mom's own hands. It was about 8'x8'; a perfect little white house with curtains on the windows, a built in table, a play oven, and refrigerator. My brother, sister, and I would spend hours in there entertaining ourselves. Wayne and I had broken the window accidentally. While Mom and I were fixing it up, a car pulled up in front of our house. We lived about a mile outside of town and rarely had any visitors so it was an unusual occurrence already, but even more unusual because of who was in the car.
I remember turning and looking to see who it was. In my mind's eye, when I look back to that day, it seems unnaturally vivid and surreal. The sun was shining and the day seemed brighter than normal. The grass was bright green even in the middle of summer because Mom religiously ran her yellow tractor sprinkler. The actual distance between the playhouse and where they parked wasn't that far, but now the expanse across the lawn seemed to go on forever.
As they got out of the car, I remember wondering why these two people were together and why in that car? It was Darlene, our pastor's wife, and the local deputy sheriff in his patrol car. Even in my young mind I knew that these two people shouldn't be together. Nothing good was going to come from whatever they had to say; the looks on their faces spoke louder than words. As we walked toward the car and they walked toward us, I could feel the day begin to get heavier and heavier. The sunshine and heat of the day became a heavy, stifling weight bearing down on me and suffocating me.
We all stopped on the green lawn between the maple tree and the apple tree. Darlene was crying and I remember her saying "Bud was in an accident." I don't remember any words after that but I do remember the deep need to get away from them. Dad had been killed in an accident in his truck. My brother was in the hospital. He had a concussion and was shaken and bruised but otherwise okay; as okay as you could be in that situation.
The following days passed in a blur. Friends and family coming and going; a nonstop parade of food and condolences. The standing-room-only funeral a few days later spoke to how much my father was liked and respected in our small town. Even at nine that was comforting to me.
I don’t remember a lot of things about the rest of that summer. I turned ten, my party a very somber affair. Everyone tried to make it special but there was a dark cloud over the day. There was a dark cloud over everything. My uncles came and helped Mom sell the trucks and some of Dad’s other things that we wouldn’t need any more. There was a constant reminder of what we had lost and how our lives were changing.
I remember Mom being so strong, picking up the pieces. I learned a lot from her in those immediate days and in the coming years as I watched her call upon a strength that I never knew existed. She depended on her faith, family, and friends to get her through; I can only credit her strength to sheer will and determination. I can’t tell you the steps that she went through or what specific things that she did, she just did them. She made sure that we still had an amazing childhood. She filled the shoes of both mother and father well. She was tough and brave and fierce.
I learned a lot about strength from watching her. I called upon that strength when we went back to school and none of my friends knew what to say. I knew they were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say to me, but I didn’t know what to say to make it easier for them either. So, I put on a brave face to match my mother’s and went on with my days as best as I could.
I called on that strength when father/daughter dances came around and I didn’t have a father to go with. I called on that strength to continue putting one foot in front of the other until each step got easier and it didn’t feel like I was wearing lead weights on my feet. I called on that strength repeatedly and I kept doing it until I didn’t cry every day and the spaces between the tears got farther apart.
Eventually, our life settled into our new normal and Wayne, Kay, Mom and I went on. Isn't that what the living do? We keep going despite bad things happening to us. We must. We wake up every morning and we put on brave faces and we do what needs to be done. We smile when we don’t feel like it. We laugh for our children even though we don’t feel like laughing on the inside. We put one foot in front of the other even when we just want to curl up and cry. We put our pain aside, and get through each day.
Over time that pain eases, but it never completely goes away. Even now, 40 years later, I mourn the loss of my father. I mourn the loss of the man that I never really got to know. I mourn all the things that I never got to experience with him – watching me graduate from high school and then college, walking me down the aisle, being a grandfather. I mourn all of the missed birthdays and holidays. I don’t think that ache will ever go away.
I often wonder how my life would have been different had my father lived and had a hand in raising me during my later years. Would I be the same person that I am today? Doubtful. But I am a stronger person today because of his death. Not because he wasn't in my life, but because I learned early the value of perseverance, picking yourself up, and going on despite devastating situations with one foot in front of the other.
About Janet Denman
Event planner by day and writer by night, Janet hopes to inspire, encourage, and amuse others with her seeds of wisdom; seeds planted with hope and love and then fertilized by family addictions, divorce, and other weeds in life’s garden. Despite these weeds, Janet has grown strong and hopes you’ll find the wisdom in her stories that you can plant in your own life. When she is not planning events, she is working on her first book, Fail Forward. Janet lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her daughter, one of her sons and his family, and her faithful running companion Lucky Penny.
Originally posted on: https://wordpress.com/post/janetdenman.wordpress.com/29