32: The Eight-Iron Victory

32: The Eight-Iron Victory

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Eight-Iron Victory

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.

~Maori Proverb

It’s really difficult to hit an eight-iron when tears keep falling onto your hands. The first time it happened I knew in my mind what the problem was, but couldn’t bring my heart to face the truth.

The second time was on the seventh hole, a short par four. After a decent drive I reached into my bag and pulled the eight-iron out for the relatively easy shot to the green. As I looked down at the ball, seeing the club resting comfortably on the ground, the tears flowed again.

I knew it was necessary to face the grief and anger that flooded my soul. Even as a 62-year-old man, I desperately wanted to sob like a little child. You see, the eight-iron was my father’s favorite club, the one he so often used in winning our close-fought and exciting golf matches.

Playing the macho card, I had stifled the anger and hurt residing in my heart during the six months after his death. Now it was catching up to me, triggering spontaneous tears every time I reached for that club.

Often I wished he had died from a heart attack, even an automobile accident. That way only his presence would be gone, not the memories of the father I loved.

The awfulness of Alzheimer’s disease had robbed me of not only my father, but also the memories of the man he was. My mind was a dynamic kaleidoscope of remembering only the withering body and a mind that had escaped reality. Memories of the man I had loved and respected focused on eyes that had lost their sparkle and a mind giving up the search for names.

I remembered the fear that flooded me when he was still mobile, but needed help finding the bathroom every single time. Grief and confusion did battle when I heard ugly, vulgar words coming from a man who never expressed anything more violent than an occasional “damn.”

Sometimes when I pulled the eight-iron out I literally heard the last-day rattling breath of my father on the phone as he was dying on the East Coast while I was helplessly listening on the West.

That club, Dad’s favorite club, became a symbol of something ugly, reminding me only of those awful last months. Golf had been my friend because of the numerous times I played with my father. Now it had become a torturous endeavor.

Maybe it was serendipity or perhaps a God-induced thought, but on the way to play another perfunctory round, I knew what had to happen. I wasn’t looking forward to the game yet again.

After parking my car, I opened the trunk to get my clubs, dreading what I knew I had to do. I lifted the bag up just enough to extract only my putter and the eight-iron. Taking two balls and only those two clubs, I headed for the first tee. I had to face this demon.

The original thought was to overcome the psychological terror and deep anger by sheer willpower. I reasoned that by forcing myself to play this nine-hole course with just the eight-iron I would eventually erase or stifle the emotions I felt each time I pulled that club from the bag.

The first hole was a blur. My body was stiff, the swing harder than normal as I felt inner anger making me want to smash those Alzheimer memories into oblivion. My mind wasn’t on golf, but on fighting to keep tears from flooding out.

I walked faster than normal, stomping on the grass, trying by physical action to rid my soul of these feelings.

Hole number two wasn’t any different. I was being “the man,” chasing victory by brute force, yet feeling anger rising and confusion winning.

On the third hole it happened. My tee shot produced the resounding “click” of a well-struck ball, and as I watched it climb into the sky, reproducing the type of shot Dad so often hit, the tears started. First just a moistening, but then pouring out as my whole body sobbed in a great release of pent-up emotion.

Walking to the ball I noticed the blazingly blue sky for the first time. The grass felt friendly. I could feel my heart beating in my chest.

When I reached my ball, the unimaginable happened.

I didn’t even attempt to stifle those tears. Dropping my putter behind me, I took the eight-iron, saw its blurry outline near the ball, and swung towards the hole only about 20 yards away.

Once more I hit it just right. I watched it hit the green, take one full bounce, and then roll the last few feet directly into the hole.

I’d seen this shot so many times from my father as he chipped in to tie or win a hole. As the ball rolled firmly into the hole, my mind saw Dad’s face with his quiet smile and glistening eyes as once more he pulled off the semi-miraculous shot.

The golf for the rest of the round was a blur, but the memories that filled my mind were as sharp as HDTV. Each shot I hit produced a memorable moment.

As real as it was during the original times, I heard his, “Great round. You hit some excellent shots.” Whether he won or lost, Dad’s respect for his opponents was genuine and encouraging.

I remembered his gleaming face as he said, “I knew you could do it!” the first time I ever beat him in a match. Even though it took me to the age of 32, his pride was genuine. My memory of that day also included how thankful I was that he never “let me win,” but allowed it to be an honest achievement.

On the eighth hole I hit a really poor shot, and my memory rewound to how proud I was of Dad when we played with someone just learning the game. His patience and quiet teaching gave growing confidence to the person, and resulted in increased skill. Dad never took credit for the improvement, but gave full credit to the learner.

Finally the ninth hole came. Walking toward the last green my tears had stopped, my walk was lighter and my heart rejoiced.

Yes, the sad memories of my father’s failing body and missing mind were still there. They were there, but the comfort of happy nostalgia had returned. My mind was free to remember the beauty of enjoyable love.

After putting out on the last hole, I raised the eight-iron toward the sky and said aloud, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me life and how to live it.”

~John H. Hitchcock

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