Our old farmhouse at Thornberry Acres was alive with a flurry of activity in anticipation of another 4th of July cookout and fireworks show. Children played outside near the house while the adults scurried around in the kitchen, pulling already-prepared foods, hotdogs, and hamburger patties from the refrigerator, getting ready for the picnic in the pasture near the pond.
Sizzling-hot baked beans were carefully pulled from the oven. Buns and potato chips were taken from the counter in the kitchen and packed into boxes. Thermoses of iced tea and water, along with the food, were loaded onto the back of the old pickup truck.
Earlier in the day, lawn chairs had been washed, dried, and taken to the pond where picnic tables were ready to accommodate a crowd. Finally, it was time for a procession of family and friends to go from the house to the pasture for the food and fun. Some chose to walk the distance; some chose to ride in their vehicles. But all were excited about what was to come—food, then fireworks over the pond!
My late husband Ralph loved his job as the cook for the friends and families who met in the pasture for our annual outings. Earlier in the day he always made sure there was plenty of firewood for the event. About an hour before the meal, he started a fire in an old-fashioned ceramic bathtub that had seen its better days. The tub was one of a kind.
The tub was first used as a grill when a large number of foreign exchange students had gathered at our house for a Halloween cookout many years before. When we realized we needed a large grill for so many students, my husband drug the old bathtub from a brush heap in the pasture where a former owner had left it years before.
He placed old refrigerator grates across the tub. The tub had a crack in one end which allowed just enough air circulation to cook burgers, hotdogs, or steaks to perfection. At the old tub’s first debut as a grill, students roasted hotdogs and marshmallows around the tub and warmed themselves by the flames. The tub worked so well that it became our fire pit for many future cookouts at Thornberry Acres.
One fourth-of-July celebration, my little nieces, Emily and Angela, played within eyesight of their parents. They watched bullfrogs jump into the pond when startled, made pictures in the dark with sparklers, and roasted marshmallows over the red glowing embers in the bathtub. After one picnic, Angela, then 4, described it as “the bestest 4th of July” ever.
After eating, we quickly cleared the tables of food while there was enough light to see. Then we turned our attention toward the soon-to-be fireworks. It seemed like it would never get dark enough, so we had to be patient. If the fireworks were shot off before the nighttime settled in, their colors and light were diminished—the fireworks were dimly visible.
So we sat, talked, and waited for a dark sky, knowing that fireworks showed up much better in the dark. After the sparklers for the children, my husband shot off the larger fireworks over the pond while others watched. There were booms and pops, lights and colors against a dark backdrop.
Perhaps there are lessons to learn from dark skies, especially after the death of someone we love. In life, many times a dark sky suddenly appears from nowhere, squelching the sun and any glimmers of light. One moment, there is light; the next moment, a dark curtain is dropped in our hearts. Life can be very painful, and it is hard to go on.
But then, ever so gently, even though we do not understand how, a small glimmer of light begins to shine against our dark sky. Even though we may not know how, healing begins and the pain begins to decrease. After a loss, life is usually much different from before—it will always be. We cannot go back and recapture what has been lost. If we love, we hurt. But then, against our dark sky, lights become visible and colors reappear. We learn that life must go on. We learn to appreciate even the tiniest glimmer of light more than ever before.
Sometimes those dark skies are our best teachers. Darkness teaches us the importance of light and about the beauty of life. We need light to show us the way, but without darkness, we could not see the stars.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator