He died. Dan showed me the obituary that appeared in the Daily Chronicle.
The plans were crafted with starry eyes and, certainly, a bit of hesitancy. He may not have wanted to be invited back to what had been his home for the last forty years, to what was now our haven, our beloved farm. He may not have wanted to enter where there certainly would have been a cavalcade of memories, where his life partner had lived alongside him, where their children had been raised.
Would he like how the floors turned out, our rich, warm hardwood that sprawls wall to wall throughout the farmhouse, or would he miss the linoleum that bore the marks from the wheels of his desk chair where he sat, for hours on end, pining, maybe, to have back the years, the decades that had caught up to him?
I should have sent the note; there was never going to be a perfect time.
The scream was such that it sliced through my glassy veil, halting my tears even as they fell. He had, minutes before, proclaimed several times that he hated me, and that he wished I wasn’t his mother. Near the close of a long, embattled day and separated from Ethan by only a shower curtain, I could no longer hold my emotions. The deep sobs were therapeutic. Then came the scream.
“I got a cut! Under my arm! It stings!” More screams. I looked at the quarter inch wisp of red in his armpit and wondered how the pain could possibly match the horrifying noise he was making.
Just then, he had a revelation. “You did it mom, with your fingernail. When I was fighting!”
Indeed, I could have. I must have. And I am so sorry that I did. If I turn my back to stir the soup, to change the baby’s diaper, or to answer the door, I can’t be sure that I won’t be needed to mediate, to intervene. Today, I had to pull him away from the near attack on his sister, from the misinterpretation of misguided laughter, from a one-sided sparring match that is a common occurrence across our days, expected fallout as part of the chaos of parenting my children. In my attempt to hold him to keep him from hurting his sister, I had hurt him. And for that, I am deeply sorry.
My daughter said she was sorry today. That’s a big deal for her. She said something that she knew she shouldn’t have, and she regrets it.
And maybe I regret never reaching out, never sending the card, and never extending the invitation. Maybe I regret never sitting with him in our living room, looking across the fields, begging stories of this Twombly Road farm from the liveliest place inside of him. Maybe I regret that he wasn’t able to stand at the back of the property as my little sons splashed through the puddles, gathered sticks, and climbed the trees. Perhaps he would have seen his own children through mine, with their fleeting joy of childhood that turns, all too soon, to the grind of adult obligation, and perhaps that vision, those memories, could have somehow filled his soul.
I never invited him to the farm, though I had planned to. I never did, and he died. For this, I am sorry.
I had gone out to fill the bird feeders and to finish a few chores. There was something that I hadn’t noticed before at the side of the barn. A mass of vines and thatch now played a part in decorating what was barely recognizable as a Christmas tree. It’s silver tinsel had long since faded to a mossy brown-green. The thick metal trunk, though, appeared solid and strong. If only there had been something left of the stand to hold it in place. I pulled this old remnant of Christmases past to the curb for the next day’s garbage pickup.
I often look back from the street to admire the farm. This time, I noticed the cardinal who had come to perch on the sturdy branch that held the feeder, freshly filled with black oil sunflower seeds. I have heard that a cardinal signals the return of a loved one that has passed.
I knew, then, that he did come back. He didn’t need my invitation, for he was always welcome, and he was here to stay.
May he rest in peace, in God’s embrace and in the peaceful memories of our shared farm, the best place on earth.