It’s my first letter to you, dear heart and I feel some pressure to get this right because “first impressions..” and all that. The story of the red balloons in a cemetery seems like the right place to start.
My dad died seven years ago. I hate to just put it out there like that, but there you have it. My dad was an extraordinary man and we had a relationship unlike any father-daughter duo I’d ever known. It was safe, rooted, playful, close. That relationship was a place of becoming, arms that were always only open to me. It was the truest home I had known for most of my life.
He was all here, then one day he was all gone. I still shake my head at the moment when spirit and breath left his body, when Kent became Kent’s shell. My dad gave his last days on this planet to cancer, but not in a “suffering patient” kind of way. He gave his last days to finding wholehearted purpose and grace in his cancer. His pain became a pathway to supernatural joy, love, reconciliation. In his absence he was determined to leave a mark of his wild joy behind. He left wishes and songs, conversations and tears. He left intangibles that still follow me around and a stack of five identical black journals chronicling his last year on earth.
I won’t get far into it now, but the last day was so hard. If you’ve lived through a similar one, you know, I don’t have to explain it. I was there, husband was there, my beloved mom (“mops”) was there. I’m thankful for that, that he went out being held and sung over. After he had exhaled long and slow, after the undertakers took his body from the house, after the first wave of mourning hit, the doorbell rang.
Two of my dad’s friends waited at the door with tear-filled eyes and arms filled with kites. Kites? After condolences and wiping their cheeks, they explained, “..Your dad asked us to do him a favor and deliver these kites to y’all on the day he died. He asked you to take the boys and visit the cemetery each year on the anniversary, to fly these kites and remember him with a lot of laughs and good memories. He didn’t want you to be sad when you went to visit him.” We wept and hugged these strangers, then we accepted the most colorful grace gift on the darkest day.
We fly kites every year, but this year it got a little hairy and the kite was dismembered. Zion, five years old, decided to use one of the cross-pieces as a sword. As is the case with many items in the hands of Zion, the crucial piece was lost forever. Being the type A. planners that we are (lie) we had breakfast the morning of the anniversary, loaded everyone up, and only then did we discover the unusable kite.
Earlier that morning I woke up and read from my dad’s last journal and stumbled on an entry I don’t remember reading before. He had been writing about hope – the hope of death to life, grave to resurrection, and he wrote a poem. I had never known this side of my dad, but there it was, “I want to sing, I want to dance, I want to send up a sky full of red balloons…”
“That does it.” We drove to the party store and bought as many red balloons as would possibly fit in the minivan. We took the long country highway to the cemetery and I felt my heart sink deep as we got close. The morbidity creeps up on me every time. We pulled up to the spot that gets us closest to his grave, to the rows of pristine military headstones, and the blue sky turned cloudy. In an instant, the clouds opened up and rain poured down hard on the windshield. But we were there, we had a standing invitation, we had the red balloons. I had never missed a date with my dad and I wasn’t about to miss this one.
“Take off your shoes, brothers. We’re going out there.”
We piled out of the shitty van we drive in order to not have a car payment and ran over rows of death, laughing through our tears. The salt water mixed with rain on my cheeks as I stood over the cracked dirt covering my dad’s shell. I thanked him and Jesus for being in cahoots once again, for giving us yet another intangible gift of grace.
Grace. Lately, it’s what I think about the most.. It’s becoming my new haven and home, my place of becoming, the arms that are always, only open to me . . and to you.
So much love to you today, fellow grave-runner.