My dad’s Father’s Day gift this year was supposed to be an apple tree. We finally found a time when all of us (my parents, sisters and us) were free and we went to the tree farm to pick one up. Turns out apple trees need a buddy tree for cross-pollination and peach trees do not. (I am sure there is some life metaphor there for another day). Since my parents were hard-pressed to find a spot in their yard for just one tree, we knew two trees were not an option. The man helping us suggested a peach tree instead. It also turns out my dad would rather have a peach tree than an apple tree, so there we go. My dad now has a peach tree. He named it Duane-after the lead singer in his favorite band who apparently sang a song about peaches or peach trees or something like that. It is SO my dad to name a tree Duane… before said tree even gets taken out of the minivan. I love it. I think Duane will make a nice addition to the family. Although part of me doesn’t want him here at all.
The truth is we probably would never have bought my dad a tree if he wasn’t sick. My dad is not an agriculturalist. Like I said, my parents hardly have room for a tree in their yard anyway, because most of it is taken up with deck and pool and dog yard and a newfound interest in vegetable gardening. So, the thought of buying a tree would not have come to our minds if we weren’t faced with the bitter reality of my dad’s illness. The very existence of Duane in my parents’ yard, means things aren’t the way we had hoped they would be. Every inch and foot that Duane grows marks some increment of time with my dad gone. The irony of Duane growing and other things fading away is not lost on me. That’s the bitter part.
In many ways looking at Duane makes it seem all too real for me. Sometimes I still feel like I am telling, and re-telling and even living someone else’s life. But when I look at Duane I know this is real. It’s tangible. The bitterness of it all. And it has made its home with us.
I imagine sitting under Duane in the years to come. I imagine the sweet smell of peaches lingering in the air, wafting through my parents’ open bedroom window and greeting them in the morning. I imagine eating peaches on Father’s Day and peach cobbler on my dad’s birthday. I imagine the kids laughing as they call the tree Duane, but in the years to come Duane becoming just another part of the family. And although I don’t like that, at the same time, I do.
I like the idea of life growing amidst the natural decaying of life. I like the idea of sweetness amidst the pain, and abundance amidst the emptiness. I like that Duane will bring the sweetness and abundance of life to my parents’ home, now and in the years to come. Where there could be only bitterness, there is sweetness too.
The sweetness reminds me of my dad. It reminds me of his legacy. And in the years to come I will taste the sweetness of the fruit knowing I am only tasting a teeny, tiny fraction of the sweetness my dad is tasting in heaven. The same sweetness I will drink in, in abundance when I get to meet my Heavenly Father face to face. Oh, what a day that will be! Until then though, there is bitterness in every sweetness, and the opportunity to choose sweetness in every bitterness.
One thing about having someone you love be sick and being able to in some ways see the future, is you start to notice things that you are going to miss once that person isn’t with you anymore. I will say something my dad always says, or hear a song that has always made me think of my dad, or see a stick that he and Braxton would gather, break on their knees and for firewood (or smores), or trip over his gigantic shoes left right where people walk and think to myself “man, these things have always been there, but now I know I am going to miss them after he is gone.” Every time I see or hear something that reminds me of him now I think that in years to come those will be the moments when I miss him the most. It brings the bitterness here prematurely I think. But it also gives me a chance to see the sweetness of memories and a life done together. When it feels like grief has suddenly risen out of nowhere and taken the wind out of me, I am thankful for the opportunity to have something sweet enough to be bitter when it threatens to be taken away. Bittersweet.
Yes, life is bittersweet. For a while now I have been trying to separate the two elements of that. But now I am learning to take them together, without struggling against it. They are fused together-the bitterness and the sweetness. There is no separating them. I see that in the situation with my dad. As sweet as an moment is, any laugh, any adventure-there is a bitterness there on the horizon. It might be hiding in the corner or looming in the shadows of our minds, but its there. There is no denying it and no use fighting against it. I don’t have much wisdom to offer myself when it comes to dealing with the bittersweet, but I have learned one thing. The bitterness makes the sweetness sweeter. It sounds silly, but it does. The bitterness on the horizon, the bitterness peeking at us from the shadows-it makes me savor the sweet tasting moments even more. It causes me to make more room for the sweet, to let them sit with me a little while, soak up the sweetness until I am almost saturated with it. Yes, the bitterness of life makes the sweetness of life that much sweeter. And one more thing I know, one more thing I cling to tighter than anything else-the bitterness on the horizon is not the end. Sweetness wins in the end. Alzheimer’s doesn’t win. Sickness and death do not win. Sadness and sin do not win. Satan does not win. Their fate is sure and our fate is secure. God wins. We win in the end. No bitterness there. Just the sweet, sweet victory we share with our Savior. And that hope leaves the sweetest taste of all.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
-Jesus (John 10:10)