I remember you, Grandpa Tom.
Resilience forged in World Wars and dust bowls.
Kindness shaped by love and generosity.
Faith cultivated in times of struggle and uncertainty.
You grew vegetables in the back yard,
Three rotated crops,
Food harvested from March to November.
That was the way your people survived.
The garden — a statement of faith
In the One who created the seeds, the sun, the rain.
The garden you called your “Fitness Center.”
In these days of pandemic, I remember you.
Your resilience, your kindness, your faith.
I think of you, at the end of my day, when I put on my work clothes
And walk out the door to my “Fitness Center.”
Trimming bushes, sowing seed, spreading mulch.
Hoping that I, too, in this time of challenge
Might be a person of resilience, kindness, and faith.
I am thinking of you today, Dad,
On this day when you crossed through the thin space
To join the saints who had preceded you:
Mom, Holt, Ida Mae, Bill …
You had been leaving us for a long time
As bits and pieces of your memory slowly slipped away.
“A blessing, really,” is what we all said of your passing.
But that did not take away the grief that we felt.
I remember the first time you did not remember who I was.
We were having dinner at the kitchen table.
You had been looking at me, and then
You finally asked me who I was.
I said, “I’m your daughter.”
You turned to Anna to see if it was true.
She said, “Yes. That’s your daughter.”
“I have a daughter?” you said in surprise.
But you took it all in as I told you who was:
Beth, your daughter.
Writer of books and liturgy.
Singer of songs.
Clergy in The United Methodist Church.
Worker at The Upper Room.
(You remembered The Upper Room.)
You were so happy
That you had a daughter.
So proud of who I had become.
And I was so happy
At your delight.
And so, we started our new ritual
Carried out in person, on the phone,
In which I would introduce myself to you
And you would be surprised … delighted!
And I was blessed with your love, your happiness,
And your affirmation
Over and over and over again.
Mom died on this day in 1983. I was in Divinity School that fall and wasn’t with her when she passed away. In July, she had learned that that her brain tumor was back and inoperable. I had gone for a visit in August and then again in October. Sometime in the fall she had been moved from home care to Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City. (Pre-hospice days.) Dad had let me know her death was coming soon, so even though her death was a shock, it wasn’t too much a shock.
I think that Grandma had wanted me to come home and care for Mom. I don’t know what Mom wanted, but I was young and “on a mission” and really didn’t want to put my education on hold to go home. In consequence, her dying journey was not one I shared. I wish I had been closer, to learn from her how you do this part of life.
The last time I visited her was in October. She was in the hospital and still conscious, but unable to speak more than a word at a time — and those words just came out of no-where when you weren’t expecting them. I remember Grandma there — dressing her, putting makeup on her, fixing her hair. Grandma was wondering out loud what color a sweater was … and mom chimed up, “Fuchsia.” It surprised both of us.
I was getting ready to go to the airport to go back to Tennessee and wanted to say something. We were alone and I think I told her how much I loved her and thanked her. I don’t really remember. But I do remember that I was getting ready to leave and said, “I love you, Mom.” And she said to me, “I love you, darlin’.” The sweetest words I ever heard.
She still travels with me. I always wondered about how “old people” could talk and think so much about those who were dead and gone. And now, I find myself thinking and talking about Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma. I feel their presence. I forget they are gone and think about calling them. It’s not dementia. It’s love. It’s the presence of the Communion of Saints. They are not gone. They are here. Thanks be to God.
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
Written by Dr. Maya Angelou on the occasion of James Baldwin’s death.
My dad — Charles H. Richardson — passed away one year ago today. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.
His last years were lived in the darkening stages of the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrank just a little bit more. When I was with him a couple of years ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom and Dad’s wonderful caregiver. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”
I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”
Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”
“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)
“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”
I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”
He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.
We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I had become.
Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?” And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”
Over the following years, when we talked on the phone, I always ended up introducing myself to him. And he was always delighted to know me, to learn I was his daughter, to learn I was ordained in the United Methodist Church, and that I worked for The Upper Room. It was a wonderful ritual for me and such a gift of affirmation that, even if he didn’t remember me, he was excited about who I was and who I had become.
Today on this first anniversary of his death, I’m sad, but grateful for his life and for the gifts he gave to me. Thanks be to the Creator for the gift of Dad.
My mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.
Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.
One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)
I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.
Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.