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Meadowlark Hospice

Dawn's Notes

Bittersweet Thornberry Acres - March 2015
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW

The western sky turned a brilliant dark-pink glow that sent me and my husband Ralph scrambling for cameras—we wanted to capture a bit of the beauty of the sunset that surrounded us that evening.  At the time we were living in our farmhouse in the country we lovingly called Thornberry Acres, and it was the most glorious sunset I have ever seen!

Film could only capture a small percentage of the beauty of that sunset—the vivid pink sky meeting the western horizon.  Sunflowers with droopy heads, heavy with seeds, and our garden fence covered with honeysuckle vines with a bright-pink backdrop in the west with a radiant pink glow overhead.

Then very quickly the scene turned from a pink brilliance to nighttime, darkness, as the sun vanished from the horizon.  That evening is only one of the precious memories of Thornberry Acres with its old farmhouse and the surrounding acreage.  That is where we reared our two daughters—where we played games on the kitchen table by kerosene lamplight if our electricity went off when it stormed.    

Thornberry Acres is where we had picnics in the pasture overlooking our pond, where we grilled hamburgers on old refrigerator grates spread across an old-fashioned bathtub.  The tub was cracked on the end where it was once attached to a water source, and the crack allowed just enough air to circulate to cook burgers, hotdogs, or steaks just right—a new purpose for an old worn-out tub.

My husband Ralph loved his job as the cook for the friends and families who met in the pasture for outings, where we shot off fireworks over the pond on the 4th of July after darkness fell.  On one 4th, my little nieces, Emily and Angela, played within eyesight of their parents, watching bullfrogs jump into the pond when startled.  They roasted marshmallows over the old bathtub when the wood turned into red, glowing embers.  After one picnic, Angela, then 4, described it as “the bestest 4th of July” ever.  That little four-year-old and her sister are now grownups with their own children.  Where have the years gone?

That pasture is where my husband and I spent many evenings sitting in a swing overlooking the pond, facing east so we could watch the moon slowly rise in the sky.  The moon would then illuminate our path as we walked back to the house, hand in hand, when the night air became uncomfortably chilly. 

Cookie and Candy, our girls’ horses, used to graze the pasture in the summers, but they have been gone for a long time now.  Year after year, red winged blackbirds raised their babies in the pasture near the cattails and the pond, and their baby birds flew away each fall.  Our daughters also grew up, married, and left Thornberry Acres to move on with their lives.

Inside our old farmhouse we hosted meals and celebrated many occasions—birthdays, our twenty-fifth anniversary, and the beginning of 2000, Y2K, with friends.  My husband Ralph told many stories around picnic tables in the pasture and around our big dining room table with its six leaves.  Food, stories, and laughter—all sweet Thornberry Acres memories.  

After Samuel, our first grandchild, was born in 1997, Thornberry Acres took on new life, new excitement.  A new little one to enjoy the walking path we kept cut around the pasture, to chase rabbits, and help grandpa shovel feed for the emus.  My husband took Sam for rides on our riding lawn mower without the blade engaged, and Sam loved it! 

Olivia, our first granddaughter, was born shortly before Ralph was diagnosed with cancer.  While Ralph continued to battle cancer, two more grandchildren, Audrey Joy and Will Thomas, were born, bringing joy into our lives—sweet with the bitter.  Ralph’s biggest fear was that he would have to leave them, that they would not remember him.    

Ralph had such a zest for life, yet his life drastically changed when he became bedfast when the cancer spread into his spine.  Even though he was very sick, he was a joy for friends to visit—he cheered visitors up!  But death eventually death won, and he died, February 28, 2006.  On the day that Ralph died, he was surrounded by family who loved him—at home at Thornberry Acres, the place he loved so much.

After his death, the house and acreage required too much upkeep, so I sold Thornberry Acres about three years later.  I remarried and moved to town.  And now I look back at my life at Thornberry Acres with bittersweet emotions, a mixture of good memories which I savor and sad memories that are still hard to think about. 

My emotions are mixed, bittersweet.  Precious, fun memories laced with sad ones.  I still remember the fun times and the love that filled the walls of that old farmhouse, similar to that glorious bright-pink sunset.  But all sunsets fade into darkness, like my final years there—good memories mixed with sadness. 

If you too have experienced a loss, no doubt you have your own bittersweet memories.  A quote by Susan Gale says, “Bittersweet memories may hurt, but they’ve made us who we are.  We can never go back, but we wouldn’t trade the memories for anything.”  Hang on to your memories—they are precious—while you reach toward your future. 

Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice 709 Liberty Clay Center, Kansas
(785) 632-2225
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator