When my son Nate was unexpectedly called in to work today, I had the pleasure of picking up his daughter Aubrey from school. Normally this bright eyed girl is starving when she bounces into my car and we immediately head to one of her favorite restaurants. That was my plan for this afternoon.
Yet Aubrey decided it was a gorgeous day to go to the park. I agreed and was delighted to comply. I let her choose the park, and she picked Cunningham Park which contains lots of play areas for children, many places for quiet reflection, and memorials for victims and survivors of the May 22, 2011 tornado. There is also a wonderful area dedicated to the thousands of workers and volunteers who have helped Joplin to recover and heal.
Aubrey couldn’t have picked a better place to hang out. Today is the 5th anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve thought of him all day, with a mixture of sadness and joy, bright memories popping up at random. He fought such a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer, enduring surgeries and treatments, both traditional and experimental. In the end, the cancer won. But it only claimed his body. His spirit never faltered, his love and joy never waned. My dad not only taught me valuable lessons about life, he taught me about living with hope and humor while walking through the shadow of death, and about dying with grace and dignity.
Mingled with the memories of my dad today, were memories of my cousin Mindy, who passed in January at way too tender an age. She was so fond of my dad, and he of her. When she was fighting her first battle with cancer, she surprised my dad, who shaved his head for years, by whisking off her wig to show that she was bald as well. The memory makes me laugh and cry, at the same time.
This past week, I’ve lost two more family members. My Aunt Annie passed last Thursday, my mom’s older sister, a fun, vibrant, family oriented woman. She was my dad’s sister-in-law for a time. I’m sure she’s found him in the Beyond to at least say hello! And just yesterday, my Uncle Dale stepped into eternity as well, a quiet but rock solid man who journeyed at the side of my dad’s sister, June, for more than 60 years. I can imagine the conversations my dad and uncle are having now. I’ll be traveling to back to back funerals this week.
Aubrey knew none of this, and yet with an awareness beyond her years, she was reflective as well today. She played at the park and we also spent time walking through the memorials, speaking of those who were lost May 22. She asked questions and made observations. She is very connected to the event of the tornado and the aftermath. She doesn’t show fear so much as curiosity and a sense of respect for the victims and their families.
At the Children’s Reflective Pool, we read the plaque dedicating the pretty pool with the spraying fountain to “the children of Joplin who would no longer play at the park”. She sat before the pool, lost in thought herself, while I watched her and felt gratitude for her old soul with its inherent wisdom. Instinctively, my granddaughter took me to the best place in Joplin today to allow my own thoughts to settle into treasured memories. The Reflective Pool provided a place to be soothed by beauty and a place to drop an ache that had gathered around my heart, even as Aubrey dropped tiny pebbles into the water. The ripples that spread out across the shimmering water reminded me that the lives of my loved ones are still rippling outward, touching others, inspiring others, ever flowing in waves of love and light. They have not ceased to exist; they exist in another plane, another realm. I sense their presence now and I will see them again. I can’t wait to tell my granddaughter more about them.