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August 2, 2015

Acts of Love

This insightful post is from blogger, teacher and preacher Troy Sims. The paintings included in the post are by his father, Paul Sims, who died earlier this year. Paul had many a brush with health crises, but lived long enough to know his grandson Micah and be present for some very special visits with Troy, his wife Sandra, and Micah. It is especially important during the first year after a loss to create rituals of expression for one's grief, and one's gratitude. Troy's donut mission is a perfect example of how both grief and love can find expression, how we often find deep meaning and comfort in what once were simple, everyday details of life. To read more of Troy's work, visit  

Ritualizing Grief

by Troy Sims

When I was growing up, my family lived in the North Central Texas countryside. Occasionally, my father would get up early on a Saturday morning and drive into town to get donuts as a surprise treat for breakfast. Southern Maid was his brand of choice then. He always bought the glazed ones, because the whole family liked those the best. This remains a fond memory.

Fast forward 30-plus years to March 7, 2015. I awake to hear my wife Sandra on the phone. I can hear only her side of the conversation, but I know what has happened. “I knew this was coming,” I think to myself as I lay in bed in a state of numbness.

After making a few calls, I sit at the computer to look at flights to Texas. In that moment it truly hits me that my Dad, my hero, my friend, is gone. I burst into tears and feel something I had not felt since November 24, 2009.  

Tree and Mountain, Paul Sims
Actually, “felt” is not not nearly the right word, as it was much more than a “feeling.” But in that moment, I “felt” the same way I had when my son Micah was born. One event was more than joyful; the other event was more than sad. Yet, I experienced the same feeling (and more). This didn't make any sense to me whatsoever.  How could I experience something so similar when these events were so vastly different?

A week later, back in our Texas hometown, I decided to do what my Dad had done for us so long ago. I got up early and went to the place that had become Dad's brand of choice in more recent years—Hot & Creamy Donuts. I ordered a dozen—half glazed and half chocolate. My wife and son prefer the chocolate. Then I drove to the cemetery to share a donut with Dad, once again.

I laid a glazed donut at the head of my father’s grave and took one for myself. As I stood at Dad's final resting place before flying back to my current home in Washington, DC, I realized just what the feeling I was experiencing was:  love. In extreme joy and extreme pain, I experienced the same love, the love between a parent and a child. And, I understood that grief, though painful, is an act of love. 

Because grief hurts, we often seek to minimize the pain and not put ourselves in situations where we will feel the loss. We try to forget. We try to stay far from places that bring up memories of our loved one. We try to do something different from what we did before, because repeating the actions we used to do brings us pain or sorrow.

We need to show our love in grief, though—even in crazy acts that might make us cry or hurt. We need to be open to ritualizing our grief, because as religious traditions have shown for centuries, ritual helps us deal with, work through, and remember life and love.  

Flowers by Paul Sims
Living far away now, I can't guarantee that I can share a donut at Dad's grave at specific times, but I plan to surprise him from time to time when I'm back home by sharing a donut with him again. And, I can surprise my son with chocolate donuts, too. Thanks for the example, the memories, and the opportunities, Dad. You are loved.

Copyright, Troy Sims, 2015.  

July 16, 2015

How Fathers Figure in Our Lives: Then and Now

This past year, the fathers of three friends of mine have died, two last week. I've had very meaningful conversations about this transition with my friends--each one so very different in circumstance. I could relate to what is hard to express about the loss of a father. We could speak in a kind of short-hand together.

When my father died, I felt someone had torn the curtain off the world and exposed me, naked, to the entire universe, no veil between the infinity's chasm and me. This was not because my father was some macho figure, controlling, or overly protective. Tall and slender, but always fit, a first impression would not lead you to equate him with force of any kind. Until you looked in his eyes, crystalline, sometimes blue, grey, green, and then, despite his silence, or his few and measured words, you would know by the light in those eyes that he was a powerhouse of spirit. My brother referred to our father as having the energy of tectonic plates. He would move the earth. He would. And in many ways he did.

Shortly after my friends' fathers died, I found this book in an estate sale. It's a souvenir book for a young woman who attended college in Louisiana the year after the Civil War ended. The tradition of a souvenir book was alive and well during my childhood summers in the South. I still have one of them with camp friends' silly and secret messages inscribed within.

At the back of this souvenir album was a lovely letter from the father of the young woman who owned the album: Miss Ella.

Many things about this letter moved me. Its gentleness. The willingness and eagerness (and courage) of a 19th century man for his daughter to have a college education at a time when women were to be dedicated to marriage and servant-hood to their husbands. This father could very well have suffered severe economic reversals during the Civil War; yet he was committed to his daughter's progress and education amidst the ruins left from the war and flying in the face of tradition. Then, even then, there were strong and gentle men, good and guiding fathers. We seldom hear about them or from them unless we find jewels like this.

I share this treasure from the past with those friends who have have recently had that veil against the universe ripped from their daily lives, and to others who remember clearly the day their fathers died. I share it to remind us that neither the light nor the love ends. I offer it in the place of the letters that I know some of your fathers felt, but did not know how to write. One hundred fifty years later on a hot Saturday afternoon, this simple note appears. The odds? There are none.

Colquitt, La. Sept 8th, 1866

My Dear Ella

You ask me to write in your New Album. I can not, nor do I wish to write after the fashion of the day on such pages--mere playing on words and dealing out of flattery.

Yet I am disposed to do what I can to comfort or benefit one, who is so precious in my sight, as yourself.

My child, you are now passing a very important period of your life (the last year at college) never before has time been laden with such momentous matters with you. Your future for time, and perhaps eterntiy, will be foreshadowed by the close of your collegiate course. Shall it be bright!

Will my dear daughter try to write her name high in all that is good and lovely? And make glad the heart of her Father, who is willing to do or Suffer, that she may be wise, good and happy, for this I live and labour.  God has given you the ability. Only use the means in your reach, and I fear not the result.

"Come, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, To whom we for our children cry:
The good desired and wanted most,   Out of thy richest grace supply."

Your Father,
John Wilson

April 15, 2015

Five Years On, and Grateful

I've written several posts on anniversaries related to loss. Today is my sister's birthday. Were she here, she would be 58. Her death was the motivation for me to start this blog. And this week, five years after her passing, I have spent substantive time looking at previous posts. What wonderful work is here! How grateful I am to every writer, artist and photographer who has contributed. Thank you so much. Your very souls reach out from this screen to other souls who need and want to hear what you have to say. Blessings, all. And happy birthday, sis.

Ysabel de la Rosa

I cry because you are not here
I cry because you are
I cry because you were beautiful and
light like a daisy in a gentle breeze

I cry because I grieve
I cry because I’m grateful

I cry from confusion over
how earth and heaven mingle
or do not, knowing that I hear
your voice just as clearly now
as I did once upon a time
in an old house with a big backyard
and a front porch where we called
baby ants "antlers" and you sang
like Louie Armstrong about Jesus

The tears slide down my cheeks
as memories float across my mind
and wonder stirs in my heart and soul
that you -brightly shining- ever were at all

And so the grief, and gratitude,
the deep, deep gratitude,
are mine, all mine, all mine

February 15, 2015

Bearing Beauty, Granting Peace

Until today I have not posted an entry on losing a child. The theme deserves much more than a few posts...yet it also deserves not to be omitted. My friend and colleague Roberta Sund has written a brave poem that is as much a testament to indescribable grief as it is to indefinable healing. What depth of soul and hugeness of heart it took for her to respond to the "call." What an extraordinary, forever-gift her courage gave to one young man. Roberta shows us a way of living to aspire to, even as we live with and acknowledge grief. I treasure this jewel of a poem.


by Roberta Faulkner Sund

The call comes at midnight:

Patient actively dying alone
All life support removed.
Can you come to the hospital?

Somehow I know I must.

The young man in the bed
looks eerily like my son,
the son I lost so many years ago.
No chance then for me to
offer comfort or say good-bye

I massage the patient’s hands
and read aloud the 23rd Psalm.
He opens his big brown eyes,
reminiscent of my son’s eyes.
Does he like what I’m reading?  He nods.

This precious gift given to me,
to be with him in his last hours,
fills me with humility and gratitude.

Pleasant journey, young man,
Happy to be here for the send-off


Poem, copyright Roberta Faulkner Sund, all rights reserved.
Image, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa.

Roberta holds a degree from Texas Christian University in chemistry and biology. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Germany in the 1950s and later earned her MS degree in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. An award-winning teacher, Roberta has taught in schools in the US and abroad, including Morocco and the UK. Her poems have been published in the Wichita Falls Literature and Arts Review, and The Texas Poetry Calendar, among other publications. 

Image description: A lone seagull flies through a cloudless blue sky.