Friday, August 20, 2010

Raking the Lake

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Kahlil Gibran

Last Monday, I returned once more to the lake after a two-week leave. Two weeks filled with familiar routes on two uncertain journeys. I know the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin very well. For twenty-two years I’ve driven it -- all 23 hours of it. Rarely have I had the opportunity to fly over I-35, I-44, the Mississippi River, I-55, I-39, and I-43.

In previous trips along this route, I wanted the miles to drift by with quick ease, for at the end of the journey, my parents would greet me. But this trip, I didn’t mind watching each farm go slowly by. In fact, I almost wanted to slow down for I knew when I reached my destination, the familiar embrace of my mom would find me, but an unfamiliar welcome from my dad lay ahead. My dad, dying. I didn’t know how to greet that scene.

I had hoped he might pass before I arrived. My dad, his body and mind devoured by Alzheimer’s disease, had fought this ugly demon for ten years. When I walked into his room at the nursing home, my fear of seeing him completely helpless and on his way out dissipated and diluted itself into the excited air of Packer camp brewing down the road at Lambeau Field. After all, he was just my dad -- whom I loved and I knew loved me.

For four days, a seat in a chair beside his bed became a comfortable place.

After he peacefully passed, my family gathered to honor him and celebrate his life. Within 28 hours of his burial, I was on an airplane, passing over the interstates and Mississippi River to return home to prepare for another trip, a day later.

A mere 12-hour drive this time to take my youngest son to college. With previous campus visits behind us, the road now familiar through towns along HWY 31 in Texas and I-20 all the way to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

My game face on. Once again across the Mississippi to deposit my boy in his new home and encourage him on the grand adventure before him.

Another Mississippi River crossing, tired beyond words and home again, I retreated to the cabin only to discover during my absence, the silky, sandy bottom of the lake had been invaded. Without our watchful eyes, weeds had annexed every inch of our waterfront. Of course, they didn’t choose only us; my neighbor’s plots covered in the garlic smelling green vegetation also.

The languid heat of summer had crept in with indexes and temperatures in the 100’s encouraging the weed growth. With no one tending the floor of the warm water, the squatters took up residence.

I hate weeds. I hate the way they coil around your feet when walking out to swim. I hate knowing they’re down there when I’m floating above them.

These weeds, for which I’m at a loss of heart to research an accurate name, have shallow roots and tiny tendrils that swish across your toes. Rather unobtrusive for the weed world actually. I can use my toes to roost them easily out of the bottom, but this infestation wasn’t like the sprinkling of past years, easily harvested to restore our sandy bottom.

I turned my back on the heat and the lake and slept for two days, letting the weeds have their way. I watched the first two seasons of Mad Men on my laptop. I made a batch of gumbo and ate the entire pot.

On Wednesday, I wrestled a three-foot wide rake from the shed and tackled the lush weed bed.

I began in a grid-like fashion, following up and down the dock, across to the neighbors and back, collecting the weeds in the talons of the rake. I lifted the full catch up through water and spanked them with a harsh clang into piles on the dock. It was easy to follow my route, like walking up one street and down the next.

I tried to mark off my progress in squares, but every once in a while I’d take a crisscross route, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, my rake yielding a few recluses here and there.

At times I found myself bored with the section I platted. I’d meander making a new pass, marking new territory, winding this way and that. It reminded me of my father’s hearse, or coach as they call them now, weaving its way through the lovely oak covered cemetery trails, finding its way to his final resting place.

As I worked, the lake was calm, quiet and I was alone. Only an occasional jet ski or fishing boat’s motor droned in the distance. No one mowed their lawn nor arrived to pound hammers into the cabins around us enduring endless updates.

Just me, and a few turtles curious as to my motion. A couple of ducks hoping I might break to feed them while the raking of the lake fed me. The peace of my work, underground. Tearing free the weeds, so when I swim, it will only be the gentle sand cushioning my feet.

After five hours of work, more boats joined the lake creating synchronized waves. A breeze erased any remainder of calm water. My arms ached from sifting through two, three, four feet of water. I climbed the ladder and sat on the dock.

My arms tingling.


Rejoining life.

With sincere gratitude, I thank the Fragrant Liar for hosting during my absence.


  1. Very symbolic this raking of weeds. You passed through two huge milestones in your life and certainly felt why not clean up the edge of he lake? At least one thing was in your control.

  2. Sleeping, raking, cooking, meandering, blogging. All therapy of sorts.

    Welcome back. Missed you here.


  3. So sorry to hear about your father. I know that soon I will have to walk the same path with my mother. Fortunately the nursing home is only five miles from where I live. But life has to go on and there are distractions all around, not necessarily as drastic as raking the lake though.


  4. Hi Julie

    I am sorry to learn that your Dad has passed away. Even though they are old and ill it is an abrupt ending and one we cope with in a myriad of ways...
    I will be thinking of you..

    Happy days Delwyn

  5. Beautiful post!

    I'm sorry for your loss.pul

  6. I am so sorry for your loss. Even more sorry that your father battled such an ugly disease. I am thankful that he is at peace now. You must be exhausted after all of this...saying goodbye to your father and to a son...I am thankful you have such a place as your lake place to retreat to. As you continue the grieving process I hope that you will be gentle with yourself. Sending much love and hugs your way....XX

  7. I think you are so very brave. Life goes on, we're glad our parents aren't suffering, but I can't imagine the loss I'll feel when I lose one of mine. It terrifies me. What does that say about my faith, which I base my whole life on? Not much, if I can't trust Him for the future completely. Anyway, you're so brave for saying good-bye to your father, for now, and taking your boy to college. I'd eat a whole lot more than gumbo, myself.

    Blessings on you in this time.

  8. p.s. addressing the totally trite: I hope you're enjoying Of Bees and Mist. It's rather obscure, and weird, but wonderful, too. I'd love to hear your thoughts when you finish.

  9. Strange coincidences abound. Today marks the fifth year anniversary since my Father escaped from the clasp of Alzheimer's, from which no good outcome can be hoped for. My long trip was back to England. When I returned here,
    I took an electric hedge trimmer to the Morning Glory vines all around my garden and took out the cable TV at the same time.
    Peace to you.

  10. I love this piece of wisdom (don't remember where it's from):
    "Treat yourself as kindly as you would a dear friend."
    You wouldn't expect a dear friend to instantly snap back, so be kind to yourself and grieve both losses, take your time, pray, and write.

  11. Julie, I am so very sorry for your loss. It is a very difficult thing to lose a parent and my heart goes out to you. Give yourself plenty of time. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Hugs, Marguerite

  12. So sorry to hear about the passing of your dad. There is always something to repair, to clean up after. Perhaps, after all this, after you mourn for him and for the life you had, you too will rest.

  13. I've been away visiting my aging--too-quickly father in Texas and the thorny weeds have overwhelmed his backyard. It was sad to see as his house and his yard used to be spotless.

    I am sorry to read about your loss. My prayers are with you and your family.

  14. The exhaustion will pass, though not as soon as you like. Rest and recuperate as long as you can - or throw yourself into working or whatever else helps you to heal. These are difficult passages my friend. Beth said it best - be as kind to yourself as you have been to me, and many others!

  15. I was almost dreading your first post after your dad's passing, and sure enough my breath caught in my throat as it reminded me of my own dad's losing the battle with alzheimers two years ago this summer. A touching post, Julie, what with the two goodbyes in your life and your understandable emotional and physical fatigue. Just glad you're back.

  16. So much here. Such beautiful writing.

    Sitting next to your father has he dies is as poignant as it gets. I will never forget that watch. I could see you crisscrossing the Mississippi with the tasks of life. Thank goodness for those weeds, huh?

  17. Hmm - I meant "as" not "has"... geeze I haven't been able to talk today, either. :-)

    BTW, I am so very sorry for your loss.

  18. I am so glad you were able to enjoy your father's final days with him, celebrating the Packers.

    Until your post, I didn't realize that weeds grew under water! It appears to have been a good meditative task for you. Maybe there were extra because they knew your brain needed the extra time out.

    *big hugs*

  19. I'm sorry for the loss of your father, and I understand the trauma of delivering your child to college and The Future. Raking the lake was a wonderful kind of therapy; I hope you find others that also bring you peace and renewal.

  20. Life as you knew it, what you were comfortable with has now changed forever.....sad right now but not always. You had a great dad, you hold beautiful memories and you spent time beside him as he made his way from this world.....that is where you should of been.
    Then it was time to help your son along on his new path, one where he too will begin a new way of life which you will be a part of for many years to come.....All will be well my friend, and you are very much alive especially raking your lake (which I have never heard of). Know that I have you in my heart and prayers, I am excited for your son and yes Julie glad that dad has been set free from that horrible disease....
    Keep moving forward my friend, I know you have much support in your life......:-) Hugs

  21. God bless you... I'm very sorry for your loss.

    I think... that everyone has covered what I had to say. I understand, the sleeping, the raking...

    It has been nine months since Mimi died from Alzheimer's, and my husband is just now coming out of the fog enough to ask me about dates, etc. He would not let himself mourn and he doesn't blog or talk very much. I took care of her the summer and some of the Fall before she had to be hospitalized.

    I'm praying for you. You wrote the most beautiful post. My heart goes to you.


  22. The passages of life.
    Your gumbo-cooking and whole-pot-eating, the solitary raking, the quiet . . . it's all a form of meditation, perhaps. And just what you needed to assimilate all of it.
    Truly, your activities sound like the recipe for dealing with loss.

  23. Oh, Julie, I'm so sorry. I'm so very sorry. It's the hardest thing to go through, and you have my thoughts and prayers. *hugs*

  24. A lovely post Julie...those was like pulling up all the emotional loose ends, a gathering of the life moments. Your words captured well the heartache of a father's passing and the bittersweetness of a son's new adventure in life.
    How nice that you were blessed with the time alone at the quiet calm lake to do your peaceful work of weeding and accepting!

  25. That sounds like a peaceful passing - and I am sure a welcome one to someone who has endured that terrible affliction. There is no better therapy than your other two tasks - firstly taking your son - life has to go on and your father would have been the first to say this when he had his faculties. Raking and weeding - getting rid of all the dross and leaving behind the happy memories.
    Very besy wishes - not least to your Mum, who no doubt will need your support.

  26. I'm sorry for your loss and am glad you were all there for his peaceful passing. Hope the time at the lake has been and continues to be very good.
    And congrats on the youngest son off to school!
    P.S. Tell me that at least your eldest chose in-state tuition???!

  27. I can only imagine how difficult these two transitions must be. And made even more difficult for having to be dealt with simultaneously. I hope your time resting, working, cooking and just being at the lake is healing. You are in my thoughts.

  28. I'm sorry for your struggle and your loss...

  29. Welcome home, my friend. It sounds like those weeds were exactly what you needed, and even your removing them felt meditative and healing.

    Your writing is so lovely and pensive here. Sending you prayers and love.

  30. After all, he was just my dad -- whom I loved and I knew loved me


  31. Isn't it amazing how these ordinary muscle-wracking chores can do wonders for the heart, mind & soul? Very best to you on the continued journey.

  32. Heavy-duty journeys like these require some time alone to recuperate. Your story gives new meaning to underwater weeds.
    Glad you're back!

  33. Yes - what Tabor said is insightful . . .

    a lovely, poignant, and wistful post.

    I am sorry about your dad *hug* . . . I haven't had to watch my dad deteriorate much, but I know he isn't as strong and I know my time will come . . . that's the weird part of our age, isn't it (I'm 53 as well) - the things that come and go.

  34. Tabor has said it beautifully. I am sorry for the loss of your dad--such a horrible illness. Glad you had other stuff to focus on: a post of release in many ways.

    Welcome back. Happy swimming.

  35. Very powerful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Hugs/ Jo.

  36. And ending and a beginning. And the meditative work of raking to ease your mind. I take the same sort of solace in my garedning.

  37. This is why I cringe when people say "Gosh, I am losing my mind" or some such thing. They mean no harm but for someone who has literally gone through this process with a loved family member it stings to the core...Those words have been taken out of my vocabulary...take care..

  38. I'm so sorry for your loss. So true what Tabor said. Hugs to you.

  39. oh,
    I don't know what to say.
    wishing you peace .

  40. Julie, I came away from reading this with a sense of calm and acceptance. I'm sorry for the long-ago loss of the father you loved, and glad that he no longer battles the awfulness of his disease. It's good that you were there before he died.

    As others have said, there is symbolism in your raking the lakebed of its invaders.
    Reminds me of that quote 'Change what you cannot accept, accept what you cannot change...etc.' It seems that you have been able to turn inwards and just rest your soul for a while. I'm glad for that. You wrote about these things beautifully.

  41. I have missed you Julie, and am sorry for your loss. Glad that you got to be with your dad while you could. Glad that you are back, and slowly, peacefully so. Glad that you have the water of the lake to help you heal. Hugs...

  42. So very sorry for you loss, hold tight to your memories, they will forever comfort you. I lost my father a year ago, I ache to see him and miss him dearly.

    Dropping off your son at college, oh my, that's another biggy!

    Loved your awesome post, your writing is incredible. Your friend Fragrant Liar, suggested I drop in to check out your blog, we are both Austinites.

    Have a wonderful day.

    Nancy's Notes

  43. Beautiful post. I'm so sorry about the loss of your father. I hope your time at the lake gives you time to heal and rest.

  44. Oh Julie, I'm so sorry. Had I been able to come to the lake last week, you probably wouldn't have done the weed therapy. Still, I wish I'd been there for you. Must see you.

  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

  46. I am so sorry to hear about your father's passing. Such a moving piece about the generations before you and after you, and therapeutic raking in between. Very touching to read of your process.

  47. The travels, the cycles of life and routines... you bring together the life changing events in a beautiful piece of writing.

    I am so sorry for the loss of your father. May your lake bring many more moments of peace for you.

  48. I thank everyone for your most kind comments and thoughts. Back in the swing of life, as they say. Back to work, back to reality. Back to following everyone. A welcome change.

  49. Julie, I am so sorry for the loss of your father, and well know how painful the loss of a parent can be. I think of my father often, even though it will be 4 years this October. Wish he could have seen the beauty where I now live in KS - he would have loved it here. Your writing is so eloquent and it struck a chord with me.

    And losing your last son to college this summer too.... you've endured a myriad of emotions haven't you? *hugs* to you girl, and it will all iron out as only time can help do and you will find your new place soon, and love it.



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