There’s road construction by our house. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. The saying in Minnesota is that there are two seasons here: winter and road construction. They’re making a new two-lane road, finishing a bridge, adding a roundabout (a word which is best pronounced using an exaggerated Scottish brogue: “Rooond-abooot!”) and fixing another on-ramp/exit situation. There’s a lot of activity over there, many different machines and vehicles, numerous projects going on simultaneously. Engines running, materials being delivered, dump trucks dropping loads of rocks, metal rattling against metal — a near-constant whir of noise. Most of the time I don’t hear it, or don’t notice that I hear it.
But it’s always there.
Every summer, my dad made a pilgrimage. Even though he was a pastor, this pilgrimage wasn’t to a denominational meeting or a special cathedral, although he did his fair share of those kinds of things as well.
This pilgrimage was to the Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin.
It’s like a whole different subculture kind of thing. It’s like an ex-military, amateur aeronautic scientist hotspot, complete with billowing flags and Americana.
He loved it, and he and my mom made yearly arrangements to stay at a place within driving distance, but on the few occasions that didn’t work out, my dad loved it enough to tent out in a field for a few days. That’s dedication if you ask me.
In the weeks before he died, Dad talked about hoping to go to Oshkosh. He hoped some of our family would join him out there. He tried to keep it open and flexible, but I think he was also trying to set himself a goal to aim for, an event to look forward to in order to keep himself going. Maybe it was an illusion he was weaving for those around him. He loved going and the idea of having some of us share that experience with him was a pleasant daydream, for all of us.
The arrangements had all been made many months in advance, but now they will not include the one who wanted to be there the most.
The place we’ll stay has plenty of space. It has a pool and mini-golf. The only thing that remains is to drive out there.
The problem is that road construction thing.
The dull rumble of loss goes on behind everything I do. Every conversation is tempered by it, every interaction is laced with it. Almost every minute, it is there.
There are times when it’s more noticeable, times when it is so loud I can hardly hear over it, and then there are lulls when the racket quiets down and it becomes possible to pay a little more attention to other things going on around me.
I’m afraid of how loud it’s going to be if we go to Wisconsin. Even though I want to go, I also dread it. I’m scared of how empty it will feel, how much his presence will be missed, how his absence will permeate every activity we choose to do. It’s one thing to make it through Wisconsin, it’s another to attend the airshow. There are exhibits he loved, certain planes he was drawn to, and by the end of the day he seemed like a kid who’d been taken to the county fair by his favorite uncle. It was enjoyable to just watch him take so much pleasure from being there.
I’m worried the memories will be overwhelming as we walk the grounds. Will it feel like a wallowing in grief and mourning, an allowing of it to soak into every pore? That seems like a twisted form of self-indulgence, one that doesn’t seem to have any useful outcome or point to it. If the memories and sorrow are overwhelming, how can you do that in a public space without becoming a spectacle? How do you possibly wring yourself out afterwards?
Maybe it’s too soon. Maybe next year will be better. Maybe it’s for someone else to do, not me.
I don’t know how healthy it is to frame each decision related to Dad in the context of what he would have wanted, but in this instance I know it brought him joy to share this with the ones he loved. My husband and I took our boys out one year (my husband went out a few different years with just my dad) and it was a great time of building memories. I think Dad would be bummed out — but gracious about it — if none of us wanted to keep making the pilgrimage to Oshkosh. Maybe it won’t be my thing, but it might be for someone else in the family. And that will be okay.
The noise of my sadness, my distant road construction, with its changes in pitch and volume, continues in the background, but I have a feeling it will get pretty loud in Wisconsin and no protective ear-wear will be able to keep me from hearing it.
How do you approach situations that are thick with memories that still cause you sadness? Is it better, in your opinion, to face into it as soon as possible or does it help to allow some time to pass?