37: When Fathers Weep at Graves

37: When Fathers Weep at Graves

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

When Fathers Weep at Graves

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.

~Author Unknown

The mockingbird sits on the wire now, singing. How can it sing? It was only a few days ago that I saw the baby mockingbird in our driveway as we pulled in with our car. I was afraid we were going to run it over. But I looked back after I got out of the car, and it was fine, hopping across the lawn. It would take a hop, throw out its half-grown wings, take another hop and throw them out again. I watched it go all the way across the road like that, hopping and sticking out its wings in a comical way! I assumed it was the mother bird flying around it, protecting, guiding, and perhaps telling it which way to go. But she could not control it. Later I wondered when she had relinquished her guard and given in to the inevitable.

The baby bird had fallen out of the nest too soon. It was not going to take off flying because it was not ready. Cats roamed the neighborhood. I had often seen them darting between houses. In my mind’s eye, the baby bird met its horrible fate. Either a cat or a car, since it seemed to take forever for it to get across the road and caused me to give up watching and go inside. I did not want to witness its demise.

Yesterday I saw the “parent” mockingbird flying around the tree in our yard. Was it searching for its child? I watched it fly from our tree to the tree across the street where I think it had its nest. Back and forth it flew. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the mother bird or the father bird.

Today I saw the bird up on the wire, singing. How could it sing? How could this bird act like it never happened, its baby now gone?

My son ceased to be. He is no more. Fate stepped in and Donnie is gone. And it’s nearly eight years. But I keep putting one foot in front of the other today as I did the day after I got the news. I take a day at a time. And it was a really long time before I felt like singing, that’s for sure.

My husband lost a son, too. His grief was different from mine. He wanted to go to the cemetery often, and I could not stand to be there.

Our son was an accomplished classical guitarist, and Don never ceased to be amazed at Donnie’s talent. I think I may have taken it for granted just a bit, since I could play the piano by ear ever since I was a child. I loved to hear our son play guitar, don’t get me wrong! I knew he was extremely talented, but I just wasn’t in awe of it the way my husband seemed to be. Don was the one who would not miss a recital. Even if I could not be there, my husband would miss work to go if it was at all possible. Once he drove three hours to Memphis for a recital when Donnie was going to school there.

After his death, Don would play Donnie’s recorded music all the time. That was difficult for me. I’d even hear him humming or whistling along at times. To me, I guess it was like singing, and it was much too soon for that. I would invariably close the door to the room where the music wafted out so that I would not start weeping.

I would think to myself, “This is pretty easy for him. He visits the grave and listens to Donnie play guitar as if he were still here, and that will get him through this? It must be different for fathers.”

I wanted to scream and break things most of the time. I felt as if my heart was torn from my body when I lost my son. I told myself it was worse for me because I had carried him, and I had known him nine months longer than my husband had. I didn’t think my tears would ever quit or that singing would ever be a possibility for me again.

Then I found this poem. My husband had copied it and laid it on his nightstand.

When Fathers Weep at Graves
By Alice J. Wisler

I see them weep
the fathers at the stones

taking off the brave armour
forced to wear in the workplace

clearing away the debris
with gentle fingers

inhaling the sorrow
diminished by anguish

their hearts desiring what they cannot have—
to walk hand in hand

with children no longer held—
to all the fathers who leave a part

of their hearts at the stones
may breezes underneath trees of time

ease their pain as they receive healing tears
... the gift the children give.

It made me realize that my husband’s grief was just as intense as mine. I recognized the fact that he did his crying at the cemetery where he could feel closest to his son. And while I could not stand to go there, it was his place of release. I realized a father’s love is just as profound as a mother’s, and the father-son bond just as sacred.

Love never dies! Not a father’s love, not a mother’s love, and not even a mockingbird’s love.

In time, we learned to honor our son’s passing in ways that worked for us individually. We came together and discovered ways to honor his life, to honor ourselves, and carry him inside that beauty. And somewhere along the journey we have both learned to sing again.

~Beverly F. Walker

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