above and below

august 31, 2006
it was six years ago tonight that i lost my father. i've written about him and that day several times before, here... usually on this day or on his birthday. but this year i only felt like posting a photo or two of what i took isaac to see today. or that was my original intent, anyway.

but after i made a trip with isaac to my hometown to see my dad's gravesite, i experienced something much different than what i anticipated. and i not only had to capture it with my camera, i had to share it here, too.

i'm not sure what i expected when i woke up this morning and decided to take him. it was just the two of us. the last time we had gone to visit my dad's grave was also the first time we had gone... just a few weeks ago. that might sound strange, as he died six years ago, but it was only recently that my dad even had a gravesite. before that, my mother was keeping his ashes with her in her home. but one day she thought we might all like to have a place to go visit to remember my dad by. not to visit him, though... because we know it is just his shell that he left behind and that he is elsewhere now. he is where the verse on his grave stone describes.

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"you make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." 
~psalm 16:11
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that is why, when i took isaac, i did not feel a need to talk to my dad as if he was there or as if i had some things i needed to say. i only felt the need to bring isaac to give him a sense of his grandfather who he never got to meet. i simply sat on the ground in front of my dad's stone with isaac in my lap and pointed to my dad's name.

"see this?" i said. "this was my dada. just like you have a dada, i once had a dada, too. my dada's gone. but he would have loved you. he loved me just like your dad loves you."

nothing more. there was only the slightest bubbling of some tears that barely made it to my eyes. but nothing deeply emotional or moving. i realized isaac has no concept of death yet... or for that matter, of what a grandfather is. but he is much more aware this year than he was a year ago on that first august 31st of his life. so it was this august 31st that i took him. he may not have understood or realized why we were there. but that is why i write this post... some day he can read it and he will have that understanding.

like i said, we had been to the gravesite once before... a couple weeks ago. but that first time, we were with my mother, and we had just finished up our day in the sun at the city park and pool across the street. since we were so close and since i had not yet seen the stone, i was eager to go look as long as we were in the area. we spent very little time and reflection there, as my mom had to get going.

but today was special. i made the trip with isaac to that town for the sole purpose of visiting the grave. grave sounds so morbid. i don't think i like the word. but that's the word it's been given, so i use it. when we went there today, i found it to be anything but morbid.

instead, i found something rather peaceful and beautiful. something i did not notice the last time we were there.

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i found beautiful. i found green. we found comfort in the shade of a very large oak. i found oak leaves above and below. living above. brown and brittle below. i found peaceful and calm. i found quiet {like cemeteries are known to be}. but i found no sadness. instead, i found joy.

we found an acorn, isaac and i.

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actually, it was isaac who found it. it was right next to the grave stone. he picked it up. i told him not to eat it. then he set it down on the stone that was already adorned with fallen oak leaves.

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i did not think much of it at first. but something came to mind a little later in our visit, so i had to get some photos because i found the picture that was being painted there to be so symbolic of something that has long been part of my thinking about my dad's passing. i will get to that in a bit. first, i have so many photos i wanted to include from our time that show what i described above... the scene we were in. so i'll share them here first.

this is what we were surrounded by...

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if sitting right in front of my dad's stone, to the right was a very large structure... some sort of mausoleum, i guess. isaac found it intriguing and kept walking over to it... i think because of the stone-like walls with a texture that he could touch and explore.

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to our left was a very large oak tree. as i said, it offered additional shade on this very warm and hazy day. and it canopied us with the softest layers of green. it felt like protection. gentle. but strong too... like oaks are known to be.

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as you can see, it was a favorite spot for isaac to hang out. he found it ideal, as its very wide base made for the perfect place to hide from me after he stole my wallet and keys.

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sitting there at my dad's stone, if you look up, you see only the leaves of that oak tree... that's how far out the branches reached. and i found this to be really cool, especially since this very open cemetery has only a handful of trees throughout... most of them being along the edges of the roads or walkways. my dad's gravesite is right on the edge of one of those little tree-lined roads that quietly pass through. i think that's why we were lucky enough to have such a pretty place surrounding his ashes. {kudos to my mom for picking such a lovely spot.}

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also to our immediate left, beneath that tree, was this sweet stone bench. i loved the heart carved into the base. i've never seen a bench quite like it. i thought it was the perfect ornament to all the lovely green around. even now, when i see it, it just makes me smile.

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directly behind us was a fountain-like statue with some ivy growing in it. it had a little cherub, which aren't really "my thing", but it was whimsical and light-hearted and filled with something living and green. so i liked it in some strange way.

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beyond that was a wide open field of green. tailored and mowed. no graves. perhaps waiting to be filled some day. but empty for now. you can sort of see it in the background of the above two photos of isaac sitting at the stone with his little acorn.

trees lined the perimeter of that field, as well as the road we took to get there. it was really pretty to look out on.

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and as for what you could see ahead {or in front} while sitting at my dad's stone... it was a small hill filled with more grave stones. these were the pretty, tall, white stones, unlike the flat plaque used for my dad's grave. though blurry, you can see them in the photo below. to me, these stones make cemeteries very beautiful... the white structures rising up from the ground. i like that a place that holds so much sadness and has seen so many tears can be pretty in this way.

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as i said, isaac had no concept of where we were. to him, it was just a playground and place to explore. in fact, that made our visit less sentimental than i thought it would be. i felt like i spent more time chasing him and telling him to stay away from other grave stones and the surrounding ornamentation that lured him closer than i did reflecting on my dad.

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though somewhat sweet at first, i realized that his curiosity might cause him to dismantle some of those ornaments that were not ours, and i did not want to be disrespectful. so i had to constantly guide him away from the neighboring stones toward something less interesting to his curious eyes.

this bench did the trick for a little while...

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but he eventually had to descend to go and see what else there was to see.

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acorns, sticks and leaves will only hold a fourteen-month-old's attention for so long.

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if i was lucky, i could get him to stay close to his grandpa's stone and explore the raised lettering... something i tried repetitively...

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although, that also only lasted for a time before he was wandering off again.

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quite an exhausting cycle that had me feeling the need to go home sooner than i would have liked. i can't say that i minded his wayfaring ways, though... it gave me plenty of opportunity to get some precious photos of isaac near my dad's place of honor.

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not that i couldn't capture endearing moments elsewhere. but it was a particular joy to watch him in all of the places he ventured off to here.

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he just seemed to be enjoying this place so much. and it almost felt like it became the purpose for our visit, rather than to pay tribute to my dad on such a memorable day. i like that. it sort of meant something to me.

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i must admit, though... i found myself wondering, "is it disrespectful for my son to stand and walk all over the stone?" but then i realized that if my dad could talk to us then and there, he would say it's not. if anything, he would tell us it's what he would want because he's not even there. he would tell us that it is not the ground or his stone that is sacred, rather it's what he believed about God and where he would go when he died that is sacred.

so i just let isaac explore. and i think my dad must have been smiling if he was seeing what was going on. 

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my dad would adore isaac. not because isaac is special as compared to any of his other grand children or any grand child in general. but because isaac is an unexpected gift in our lives. {and simply because he's pretty darn cute. *wink*}

seriously, though... that brings me nicely back to the point i alluded to earlier... to that thought that came to mind at some moment during our visit.

while there observing the life and death of what was around me... trees, leaves, grass, memories, people who i never even knew, their family's and friends' presence in the form of flowers and such, and my own father and son... i remembered a deep longing i had to have children of my own after my dad died. knowing i was his child and that he fathered me, i wanted so badly to be a parent and carry on that cycle.

just a few years after he died, i would come to a realization that i may never have kids... believing that it was not going to happen for us after trying and not succeeding.

i had this very strong sense that it was important for me to have someone beneath me after having lost someone who was above me. i guess it makes more sense in a linear context... having your own flesh and blood to come after you after losing your own flesh and blood that came before you.

i felt almost as much loss in thinking i would not have a child or children of my own as i did in losing my father. i think, in some ways, my grief during those years was worse than my grief immediately after he died.

i'm not saying that life can not be fulfilling if someone does not have children. but for my own personal heart's desires, this was so incredibly important and so immensely yearned for.

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so i found this acorn beneath me and the large oak above to be such an incredible symbol of that. here i was with my son who i never thought i would have. and i was visiting my father's remains. my picture complete. my father who was above and before me. my son who was below... who came to follow me. it softly and quietly hit me how our surroundings painted such a picture of that line of life. it gave new meaning to the term family tree. i now know why that is the symbol used to illustrate the lineage of a person and their family.

and it gave me goose bumps a little bit.

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over these past fourteen months, i've taken several photos of isaac in which i could see quite a bit of my dad in him. i didn't get any today. but trust me... there is so much of my dad in him. and i hope to discover as the years go by, that it's not just physical traits that he picked up, but all the other wonderful things about my dad, too... his sense of humor, his artistic talents, his love of music, his hard-working ethic, his gentle spirit, his deep devotion to his family and his God.

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this was my father as a very young and handsome man...
i treasure this photo very much. the number of photos taken of my dad in his lifetime does not even come close to the number of photos i have taken of isaac in just fourteen months. but whether it's one photo or thousands, i am so glad that i have photos of each of them to treasure. i'm so glad isaac has this photo of his grandfather {among others} with which to know him by a little more than he would without the photos that were left behind. and i hope that isaac's family and the generations that follow will be glad that i took so many of him with which to know him better by. {don't laugh... i know there are a ridiculous amount! but someone, someday, will thank me. i just know it.}


Deborah Tisch said...

Beautiful post..filled with so much love and wisdom and peace...

georgia b. said...

thank you, deb.

Liza said...

Being a mother has connected me to my parents in so many ways. I see my parents in my children sometimes. It's an endearing feeling.

georgia b. said...

i know what you mean. i understand my parents and who they were as parents so much more now that i am one. much of who they were as parents never really clicked until i had my own child.

Nate Heldman said...

excellent in every way, george...

beautiful pics and elegant story.

our dad would love it!

georgia b. said...

thank you.

Rose said...

georgia, wonderful post. Believe it or not, I have never been to my dad's grave site. I lost him as a little girl - and to age myself - August 9 marked 40 years. He was far too young. but I'm blessed that I have some pictures of him and a youth and of me as a baby and small child with him. thank you for sharing your story.

georgia b. said...

oh... i can't imagine how that would be. funny you should share that, because i was just discussing that with my husband last night... how it would be if isaac never knew us. if something happened to us, he would miss us at first, but then after a while, not notice at his young age. but then, some day, when he saw pictures again, his heart ache would return. but hopefully, also fondness for the photos that he could see and have glimpses by... why i love photography of people!

georgia b. said...

thank you, also, for sharing.