August is a month for dads around the Salonen home. It's the birthday month for both my husband and father. It's also the month my husband's and my parents celebrate their wedding anniversaries.
So this year, August brought a birthday and an anniversary in which the main honoree was absent. My Dad, having left this earth in January, was not with us for his birthday nor to celebrate his wedding anniversary with Mom.
In other words, Dad was on our minds a lot and we wanted to to honor him in a way that felt right.
I've shared in earlier posts how we honored Dad through a trip to his hometown, but not until after stopping at his grave site.
I touched his grave marker, which awaits a renovational headstone, but there was an emptiness about it. I knew his body was buried there, that the ground below was sacred, but I really didn't feel Dad's presence strongly there.
Until...I stopped and listened and began to hear...birds singing. He loved birds and their choruses put me right in touch with his heart.
Then I looked up at the sky and its interesting formations and to the hills beyond the cemetery, and I could feel Dad in a breeze that touched my cheek.
One of the first places we stopped after finding his childhood home was the local cemetery in New Rockford, N.D., where his parents and some siblings are buried.
The cemetery is divided in half -- Catholics on one side and everyone else on the other. I'm assuming the Catholic parish owns that part of the land. The Beauclair name was fairly prominent in the index. A lot of my history lies here.
It didn't take us long to find the Beauclair plots. It was strange to me to think that some of Dad's family is here while others are scattered throughout the region, depending on where they died. There were nine kids in all; two are with us still, the other six and their parents have passed.
The grandmother I never got to meet - she died when Dad was 19.
The grandfather who died when I was younger than my youngest (he's in third grade, I was in second).
I've always found cemeteries fascinating, never a place to get spooked. Visiting there did bring me closer to the people who shared my blood, and without whom I would not be here, even though I never got to be an integral part of their lives. I am forever connected to them and I regard their places of rest.
I'm glad we went to these sacred spaces, but I have to be honest. Of all the stops we made on that journey, the very last place we visited, the James River where dad used to fish, and the little detour we took near New Salem, N.D., were where I felt Dad the most.
Oh yes, I can see why he loved this little spot.
As little girls, my sister Camille and I hiked with Dad in the Badlands of Northeastern, Mont. Dad was always so captivated by nature -- the sounds, the sights, the smells. I was just a tired little girl looking for a drink of water, spooked by the thought of a nearby mountain lion or rattle snake.
But what Dad knew is if you could just make it up that one last hill, it would be entirely worth it.
Dad would have loved this last one. For some years he worked as a hired hand on various farms near our town. I can picture him in this pickup, eating the cold meatball rings I prepared for him the evenings before.
It really took Dad's death for me to see the gift he offered by seeking sacredness in the open air. I might not have been as conscious about it in those early days, but even then I sensed something incredible, through my father's affinity for the spaces he was moving through; something big and mighty and all-knowing.
And I realize I've been kidding myself these past years, thinking my obsession over sunsets and sunrises and clouds had something to do with me discovering, at last, that the sky was a magical, mystical place.
No, I only "discovered" that because Dad first taught me to look up and around, to pause long enough to inhale, to not miss the sacred space through which I was walking in my effort to get to the other side of it.
This is our first August without Dad, and yet, it's the first August in a long time that I've felt him so close.
I didn't leave a note at his grave, nor flowers or anything like that. Somehow I sensed I didn't need to because, well, I'm pretty sure he knows now exactly how I feel.
The places where you find the things your loved one loved -- those are the sacred spaces where mystery flourishes and peace of heart is possible.
Copyright 2013 Roxane Salonen
About the Author
Roxane B. Salonen, a wife and mother of five from Fargo, N.D., is an award-winning children’s author and freelance writer who also enjoys Catholic radio hosting and speaking. Roxane co-authored former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino’s memoir, Redeemed by Grace. Her work is featured on "Peace Garden Passage" at her website, roxanesalonen.com