Sheep are completely defenseless. They have no sharp teeth, or fierce claws, or fast legs to get away. When under attack by an enemy, a sheep has two choices; stay in a group or flee. Predators attack the ones separated from the flock – the old, the weak, the ill, and especially the young. In the group with the shepherd, the sheep are protected. The shepherd provides that protection. The rod and the staff are the shepherd’s tools to protect the sheep. — The Writing Sisters
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. – Ecclesiastes 3
My family said goodbye this week to our patriarch.
My grandfather was nearly 100 years old, and his presence in this life was powerful. He was loving and strict, easy to laugh and just as easy to eagle-eye you into a corner if he was concerned about your direction. He fought the Nazis. He gathered wildflowers. He ran businesses and raised a family. He loved life, and life loved him right back just as hard.
So saying goodbye has been a challenge. I spent the first week after his death in a weepy haze. I know it’s perfectly natural that a person this old should pass away, and yet I just didn’t really know how to let him go. He has presided over all of the most significant moments of my life to date, and thinking about how to anchor anything without his involvement has been difficult. I just kept thinking, “He’s gone.”
Then, it happened. At a 30-plus family member dinner on Saturday night, the cousins started dancing.
These were the little ones, ranging from 3 years old up to 10. Some of them knew my grandfather, but many were too little and lived too far away to have any memory of him. I had been agonizing over the fact that they would never really know him, that without his guidance and influence our family couldn’t go on as it had been, that this gathering would be the last of the great family gatherings because without Poppa we would not really know who we were going forward.
“Look,” my husband said nudging me, “It’s a cousin conga line!”
All of the little ones had lined up and were kicking, dancing, and laughing their way through the restaurant we had reserved for the night. I can still see Jennings’ face. My first cousin once removed, he is a live wire and known to be the child who took Poppa’s death the hardest to heart. This was his first real family loss to death, and yet here he was, leading the party.
In that moment, I found myself looking away from the past and toward the future of my family. As The Byrds’ song suggested, I turned. Instead of seeing what was lost through heartbreak, I saw all that is dancing before me into the future.
Such moments are a rare gift. When I was younger I can remember older generations losing loved ones and me wanting to scream, “They are gone! I am right here!” Now I see the pivot point.
And now I turn.
(This piece first appeared on January 22, 2013, on The Mommyhood, a blog of The Charleston Daily Mail.)