On past fourths of July, my late husband Ralph and I sat outside in our pasture beside the pond with family and friends, eating hamburgers and roasting marshmallows. We talked. We waited for the sun to go down, for the darkness to settle in.
It seemed like the darkness was slower to show its face on the Fourth of July, or maybe we were just overly anxious to get on with the fireworks. Without the night sky, the lights from the sparklers and firecrackers would be wasted, lost. So we had to be patient and wait.
When the darkness finally came, the sparklers were lit for the little kids, accompanied with warnings from parents—“Careful,” “Don’t get too close,” “Don’t touch anybody,” and “The wires are still hot even after they have quite sparkling.” If you are a parent and your children shot off sparklers, you know the drill.
After the sparklers, Ralph usually lit off firecrackers over the pond while the rest of us watched. The pond provided a safe zone for the sparks, especially during a dry summer.
There were booms, pops, and bangs from the fireworks and oooohs, aaaahs, and “that was good one” from the on-lookers as the bright colors of the fireworks briefly provided light and beauty against a dark sky.
Too soon the fireworks were all gone, used up. And that was the end of the evening except for packing up the food by lantern-light and our trek down the path to the house with full tummies, tired kids, and memories of another wonderful Fourth of July.
My last Fourth of July with my husband by the pond was several years ago now. Things have changed. After his death, I sold the old farmhouse to a young couple with a little boy and a little girl. Now it is time for another generation of kids to enjoy the pond, the pasture, and the frogs that live in the pond.
After marrying my present husband Tom, I moved to town; I am no longer a country girl. Occasionally I drive by my old house—just to remember the good years I spent there. But I cannot bring those years back, no matter how hard I wish. Life is very different, and I now watch fireworks in town on the Fourth of July.
As Robert Frost wrote, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life—it goes on.” There’s truth in Frost’s statement. If we are blessed with time, life goes on even though our lives will never be the same.
So the questions: What do we do with the time we have left? How do we cope? How do we fill our days, our weeks, and hopefully our years after the death of the one we love?
Some of us may live life more timidly after a loss than others—similar to little kids who gingerly handle the sparklers, gently twirling them, swirling them against the darkness, painting pictures in the dark, quietly adding color and light to our lives and others.
Others may choose to live life with a bang—boldly tackling bigger dreams or projects. Living life with an adventurous spirit, grabbing all the gusto from life they can muster up, still adding color and light for themselves and others.
Neither approach, sparklers or firecrackers, is wrong, just different. Some choices are within our grasp to make after a loss. J. P. Sartre said, “We are our choices;” our choices impact how our lives turn out and influence the new memories we will make.
Similar to a mother of a small child holding a sparkler for the first time, I caution you. Be safe. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Don’t get hurt, but try to add color and light to the world either with your sparkler, your firecracker, or even a Roman candle—your choice.
Helen Keller who became blind at the age of 18 months, said, “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” Light up the sky! Happy Fourth of July.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice 709 Liberty Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator