Ladders, stones and All Saints

all souls

A poem written by my grandfather in the wake of my brother’s death

As we near All Saints Day, observed November 3, I am thinking about loved ones who have entered the Great Beyond.

My brother, Timothy, died when he was 13. He drowned on a hot summer day. It was on a Father’s Day actually. I was seven at the time, so I don’t remember a lot, but I do recall feeling confused during the burial:  How was Timmy going to get to heaven? People told me he was climbing trees with God, a favorite activity of his (and maybe God?), but how was he going to climb to heaven? I was sure a ladder would come down from the sky.

In the years that followed, I would visit Timmy’s grave often.  Sometimes during track practice I would make an extra loop around the cemetery, which was close to our high school track. Maybe I was still secretly hoping to find some kind of evidence of a ladder or rope. Timmy’s grave stone, by the way, is a rock that my dad discovered in the Flint Hills. I can only imagine the grief that he must have felt and continues to feel as he walked through the prairie, looking for that right stone, for such a not-right-seeming-death.

Many years after his death, I came across this poem that my grandfather wrote called “Wings of Stone.” He wrote it in 1987 “in memory of Tim’s Resurrection.” What!,” my grandfather writes. “A stone would fly. Breaking the chains of gravity….Moving, silently rolling–Lightly flooding the dark tomb.”

My Grandfather, who wrote these tender, provocative words died in 2001. I don’t imagine my grandpa climbing trees in heaven, nor did I look for a ladder at his burial. Instead, I was flooded with memories and tears, profoundly sad yet profound grateful for his life among us. He and Timmy are in the Great Beyond. They have broken the chains of gravity. I still sometimes wish for more evidence that there is, in fact, a Beyond. Maybe I’m still looking for that ladder. Thankfully I have poems like this one that keep me wondering, that keep me hoping that Light does and will flood our dark tombs. Maybe that is enough of a ladder for now.

November 1

November 1

On this All Saint’s Day, may peace be upon all who doubt, believe and are sad beyond belief. May the Giver of Love shelter us all.

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