The painful bruise of loss lingers


The sun shines, the warm spring breeze blows across the fields like a blessing. This is the time, every year, that I wish to hold on tight to every moment, for reminders are everywhere that it all goes by in the blink of an eye.

This time of year, more than ever, my heart carries the tender bruise of melancholy for my dear dad, wishing so much I could just one more time hear his invitation, “Hey let’s go see if we can ‘row’ the round field yet!” Only a farm kid would know that invitation has nothing to do with a boat.

Today is my father’s birthday. Memorial Day, a day which for us has always meant a small parade, hometown friends, the Jeromesville Volunteer Fire Department, our school band marching through our village, a place in which our family roots run so deep that time seemingly can stand still. It is a day for looking back, paying tribute, remembering.

This is the time of year in which that deep bruise of loss reminds me how very much it still hurts. Like a child who checks to see if yesterday’s mark on the shin is still sore, this one carries its own reminders, in deep, quiet, unexpected moments.

“Hey, they’re having a parade for my birthday! Still!” Dad would say, happily, every single year. “I think you’d better go in my place — I have too much work to do, but it wouldn’t be polite to not send my best representatives.”

A man who loved to work his farmers more than play at anything, Ada once told me he wanted his kids to learn the balance of fun and work, knowing one will never be deeply enjoyed without the other.

So we would go, enjoying the day no matter the weather, surrounded by the sparkle of a tiny town all dressed up for a parade, which ended in a gathering at the village cemetery. The school band’s chosen trumpeter, a small part once played by my dad, would signal for silence. Taps would be played, solemn prayers to follow. The wonderful scent of lunch being prepared on the fire pit at the park filled the air. We’d take our meal home and enjoy it along with a birthday cake topped with candles.

The celebrations stopped all too soon. My husband is now the age my dad was when he passed on, giving us all pause.

My sister played Dad’s trumpet in the school band, and no matter what the subject, he encouraged us to endeavor to do better than he did.

“When you get some perspective, you realize that anything you do is done for such a brief moment in time, so give it your best.”

He once told me he realized his own shyness had held him back, so he encouraged us to rise above any natural tendency in that regard. While working on my commencement address, he told me repeatedly how proud he was, not only of the accomplishment, but that I was happily willing to speak in front of such a large crowd.

This birthday would have been my father’s 80th. We would have thrown a big party, pulled out all the stops, and he would have loved every minute. He could find any excuse to have a family picnic, to ask one of us to bake a cake, fire up the grill.

The marching band drums along, then there is silence, followed by taps. Memorialized in stone, my father’s beautifully symbolic monument stands beside me. The tears that surprise after all these years arrive unbidden.

The enormously empty place remains. Still.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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