My parents have always been very resourceful. Mother used to sew dresses for all three of her daughters. We tagged along with her to the fabric store where she’d search through McCall and Butterick patterns. She would hold one up and ask us what we thought, but it was hard for me to understand we weren’t looking at the color of the dress, just the basic pattern. One year, she sewed special dresses for us to wear in the school Christmas play. But she stitched jingle bells to the hem so when we walked down the aisle to the stage, her daughters would jingle.
My Father was quite resourceful too. As the only son of a tobacco farmer, he learned how to do just about everything and fix just about anything. He learned how to engineer and jerry rig materials so that he could work smarter and get the job done quicker. When he married my Mom and began a family, he built dog houses, fences for the vegetable garden, tables and chairs.
Our hometown of Roanoke, Virginia saw a great deal of snow, which delighted my sisters and I. School would be closed for days while we bundled up and played outdoors with our dog Pepper until Mom called us inside. One year, Dad made a sled for us in his workshop with a piece of wood on each side and plexiglass for the bottom. It was the most amazing sled I’d ever seen because when Dad pulled us around the backyard, we could clearly see the snow underneath us. It was wide enough for all of us to ride at the same time and we spent hours laughing and playing, begging Dad to pull us faster.
On the side of our little brick home was where we kept our aluminum garbage cans. And for whatever reason, maybe the shed was overloaded, Dad kept our sled propped up beside the trash cans. We were horror stricken one day to learn that when the garbage men had come to empty the cans, they took our precious sled, thinking it was trash.
Even though that was forty years ago, it still makes me sad. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but when our sled was taken away, I was crushed. I grieved for that sled. I know that might seem ridiculous, but I didn’t just see it as a mere sled. I saw it as my Father’s handiwork, lovingly made for his three daughters. I saw it as a symbol of our play together, of Father/Daughter time in which we laughed and made memories together.
So what do you do with loss? I’ve never wanted to write about our sled because the memory still hurts. Isn’t that crazy? Yes, life is filled with loss. We have to accept it, learn how to live with it and try to move on. We lose relationships, things of sentimental value, jobs, material things and loved ones.
My Father is losing a lot right now. He’s in his 15th year of Alzheimer’s and things that have been stalwart and steady all of his life are slipping away. His words, his balance, his understanding, his ability to feed himself. I can’t stop it. I wished to God that I could. It’s one thing to lose something at one point in your life that’s dear to you…like a sled. But one of the hardest things I’ve experienced as a caregiver is this lifestyle of loss. If I could cry enough tears for those things to be restored to my Father, I could easily accomplish that. But tears don’t make it any better. They help us grieve our loss. But at the end of the day, the loss is still great.
So what do we do with loss? The only answer I’ve found is that we give it to our Heavenly Father. We acknowledge it instead of trying to pretend it never happened, we grieve it and then we give it to God. He knows us inside and out, knows what the loss does to us and He’s the only One who can heal and restore us.
There are people who experience such extraordinary loss that they never fully recover. I’ve seen this in older couples who’ve been married for decades. One will die and it isn’t long before their spouse passes away. They’ve lived a lifetime as one flesh and they don’t know how to live without their partner. Other people are able to learn to live with their loss.
I don’t know why I had to lose my childhood sled my Father made with his own hands. I don’t know why my Father has to lose his memory, cognition, words and ability to function. I may never know why. There are some questions that don’t have answers.
So when my Father can’t find his words and I feel myself spiraling downward, I imagine myself lifting up my hands and giving this loss to God. And He takes it. Always. And I ask Him to heal me and help me focus, not on the loss, but on what my Father still has.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” Joel 2:25