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Be Like Chuck

This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.

During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.

He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.

I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.

We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…

Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.

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Gratitude in the Time of Loss…

I slept in today. It was 7:30 before I greeted the morning with a cup of coffee and some prayer. The Saharan dust cloud that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean and into the southern United States has left a greyish haze over what would normally be a sunny to partly cloudy day. It fit my mood for the day…

Perhaps the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. At least that’s what I told myself. The reality is that I’m tired. Grief is tiring. It drains me of all energy and drive, leaving me at times with an overwhelming sadness. Some days I simply feel defeated.

It may be too early in the grieving process to find gratitude in loss, but I’ve learned that gratitude is a powerful tool to change perspective and move forward. I can still be grieving the loss of my son and find the gratitude to move forward. Ironically, when I came in from the porch to check emails, the first three were links to articles on gratitude. I’m not huge on the whole numbers/numerology thing, but when I see or hear something three times I tend to listen. That’s usually when God tries to get my attention. This is what came to mind this morning…

First, what I’m going through is a part of life. Grief is a common experience to us all. Life is about birth and death. Everyone experiences loss. The loss of a child is a particular type of pain. My friend Edgar told me that there is no name for our pain. Someone who loses a spouse is a widow or widower. Children who lose their parents are called orphans. There is no name for people who lose their kids. Perhaps it’s because no one can find words for it.

I’m grateful for the outpouring of love and support from my friends and family. I’m especially grateful for those that acknowledge there are no to offer and not trying to offer comfort other than “I’m here”. Jeremy’s passing has shown me how blessed I am with the amazing people God has put into my life. I’m reminded I’m part of a community. Most importantly, I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to feel what I need to feel, and I don’t have to walk this journey alone.

Secondly, I’m extremely grateful for Opal’s Farm. I’ve always told people about “dirt therapy”. I can now say without a doubt it’s truly therapeutic. Something about seeing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in a garden centers me. It reminds me I’m part of something greater; that I’m a part of creation. After all, that’s why God created man to live in a garden…

Lastly (for this post anyway), it dawned on me this morning that Jeremy’s passing never caused me a crisis of faith. I’ve never doubted God’s goodness during this time. That’s a big deal. Had this happened several years ago I’m not sure I could say that. My coping systems were flawed then. I probably never would have recognized God’s constant presence and protection. I miss Jeremy dearly, but God didn’t “take him” from me. Instead, He’s carrying me through this time of grief. He helps me be there for my grandkids and those left behind who loved Jeremy so much.

“Ghost” by Jeremy Joel

I know there will be good days and bad days in the coming weeks, months, and even years as grief ebbs and flows. I’m still early in the process and the crash is still coming. Thank God for the people in my life who’ve experienced this special kind of pain and will lead me through the process. I know that gratitude can be found in even the most dire of circumstances if I search diligently enough. For those days when gratitude is elusive God will pick me up and carry me until strength returns and I’m able to walk the path hand in hand with Him again…

Courtesy of KERA/Art and Seek

https://artandseek.org/2020/06/10/remembering-jeremy-joel-artist-friend-father/?fbclid=IwAR3_1TgijHW3iZ65otwVcL3-nopdovKXPekEy0h0pIXIBMMCampHnUianSs

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Father’s Day 2020

It’s been three weeks since my son Jeremy died. I haven’t yet responded to all the calls, texts, and condolence letters that so many of you have sent. I want to personally thank each one of you and will do so in the coming days. I’ve started to several times and found I simply couldn’t yet. This is a kind of grief I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Today is Father’s Day. It’s not much of a holiday this year. I usually have lunch with my older son (he’s still single ladies), Adrian, and let Jeremy spend time with his children. That’s how life goes. Our kids grow up and have families of their own and days like today are left to them to celebrate with the next generation. As it is, Adrian is on his way to Colorado to deliver Jeremy’s ashes to his mother and spend some time with her. She needs him now more than ever. Still, my children are absent, and my grandkids have no father to celebrate with. My heart is broken. I’ve had better Father’s Days…

Photo by Katy Hulsey

Over the last three weeks there have been many wonderful articles written or shared on the local NPR affiliate about Jeremy the artist. I’ve been so proud of him. To see the outpouring of love and appreciation for his talent and his work warms my heart. I know my son was loved by many. I am grateful for all of it, but it doesn’t talk about Jeremy, my son, and the father of my beautiful grandchildren.

One of the articles mentioned Jeremy’s art as his legacy. Apparently, the author wasn’t as good a friend as he claimed, or he would’ve known that Jeremy’s true legacy was his children. Thank you to all the subsequent writers that acknowledged the kids and Jeremy’s role as a father.

As I’ve sat here at the desk this morning, I’ve tried to put my emotions to paper, but I feel lost. There are no words. Jackson Browne came on my radio today. His words rang in my heart. If I were a better musician and singer, I’d sing this song for Jeremy. He’d get it…

Jackson Brown, For a Dancer

All of this being said, I want the wish a Happy Father’s Day to each of you Dad’s out there. It comes with a caveat – give your kids a hug and tell them how much you love them. Make this day about them. That’s what fathers do…

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A Pain That Doesn’t Go Away…

Friday, May 29th, was the most difficult day of my life. I received a phone call around noon. It was my daughter-in-law. She said, “I’m so sorry Pops, but they found Jeremy (my youngest son) and”. She couldn’t finish. The sobbing swept the words away and I knew…

I had filed a “Missing Persons” report the day before. No one had heard or seen him since the previous Friday, and friends and family were concerned. Honestly, I had a picture in my mind of Jeremy popping in with that big grin of his and asking what all the fuss was about. Then he’d be mad about the fuss. He’d been known to disappear for a couple of days before. He’d get a wild hair and go camping without telling anyone. Everyone would be angry with him for not letting anyone know. His response was always, “Why is everyone all bent out of shape?” This time it was different…

We had a photo shoot at Opal’s Farm last year. That day is full of happy memories…

His apartment manager found him the following morning. I don’t feel up to answering questions or discussing his death right now. I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my sadness and grief. Every time I look into the faces of my grandchildren – Baillie, Izzabella, and Lucas – my heart breaks down even more. He loved his children so much.

Fortunately for me, there’s much to do when a loved one dies – funeral arrangements, legal stuff, and so forth – busy is good. It keeps the grief from becoming completely overwhelming.                                        

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They shouldn’t have to tell their grandchildren that Daddy isn’t coming home. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. Their adult children are. That’s the way it’s designed to work.

Unfortunately, designs and plans fly out the window when they meet the real world. I know I am not the first to lose a child (grown or not), nor will I be the last. That’s reality, but it’s my child, my son, and my heart has been ripped has been ripped from my chest…

Jeremy, Baillie, and our friend Kristen…

In the coming days, or perhaps the coming weeks, I will write about this. That’s what writers do, right? I need to tell you about Jeremy – about his impish humor, his incredible artistry, and the bravado that hid the tender soul that he was. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so right now. There’s no timetable for grief. I’ll know when I know…

Right now, there are no words to convey the sense of loss our family feels. The family funeral is today. The local art community is planning on a huge outdoor celebration of Jeremy’s life when more of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safer for everyone. Thank you to those who were close to Jeremy for helping the family through this.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have given. There will come a time for the thank you letters and emails. As it is, we can only put one foot in front of the other and wander through the dark days that are no longer filled by Jeremy’s smile.

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Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.

My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.

He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:

LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB

Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.

Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.

Shepp’s Nursery

I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…

I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…

My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…

I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…

My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.

The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.

I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.

One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.

I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone…

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