Saying Goodbye Again

The pond on our farm

My 6-year-old nephew, Phillip, ran ahead of me as we walked up the path to the sheep barn for morning chores. As he ran, Phil kept jumping up in the air. “What are you doing, Phillip”? It seemed like an easy question to answer. “I’m being off the ground, Aunt Jackie.”

His explanation continued, “When you really think about it, the only time you’re really off the ground is when you’re in an airplane. When you’re in a car, the car touches the tires and the tires touch the ground. When you climb a tree, the tree roots touch the ground. So lots of people think they’re off the ground when they are really not.”

All that coming from a 6-year-old.

Phillip was killed in an accident on May 16, 2012 that almost instantly took his life and shattered the world of so many into sharp fragments of excruciating pain. He was just 24 when he died.

But that’s not what this blog is about, really. Not so much about his death but his life. Our life together.

Phillip was the youngest of the brothers, Jason was the oldest, then there was Nathan. For many years these three boys (now men) spent time at our farm in the summers. And those times were some of the happiest of my life, especially since my own son had died at an early age. After his death and 2 miscarriages, I found myself with no children left on earth.

Each nephew was so special in their own way and each was my “favorite” because of that. We laughed and played and just enjoyed each other’s company on those not long enough summer days.

Today was a gloriously beautiful weather day on our farm and I kept being drawn to our pond most of the day. Finally I went and sat on the swing at the pond and could almost hear the laughter of 3 young boys as I sat and watched turtles sunning themselves on fallen tree branches and jumping fish making ripples in the still water.

There Nate was again going in so deep that water flooded his boots. “Nathan, you can’t go out that far. Aunt Jackie can’t swim and if one of you boys drowned in that pond I would never get over it.”

Jason distanced himself from the younger brothers to see if he could keep them from tangling their lines together with his. Grinning from ear to ear listening as Phillip chattered on:

“Aunt Jackie, you stink at casting.”

“Yes I do, Phillip. I really do.”

“Aunt Jackie, you don’t really like to fish do you?”

“No, I don’t like to hurt critters. Putting a hook in a fish lip for no reason makes me sad.”

“They don’t feel it Aunt Jackie”, Phil continued.

“Well Phil, since I’ve never had a fish tell me it feels good to have a hook in his mouth I am just going to assume it hurts.”

Laughter from all the boys and me too.

They also protested that I wouldn’t buy them live bait and made them dough balls instead. I did buy them bee moths once but that didn’t go well for me and I never did it again.

“You can’t catch fish with dough balls” claimed Phillip then a second later he caught quite a good size fish. That was the end of the protestation and conversation.

There are so many memories that make me smile all these years later. Too many to recount. As years went by Phillip would visit me on his own and we spent much of our time talking and doing projects on the farm.

Many times he spoke of the upheaval at home caused (we now know) from his mother’s (my sister’s) schizophrenia. I had long suspected she had mental issues and she had become very and obviously jealous of the relationship I had with the boys. As time went on, she did not encourage their visits and filled their heads with untruths trying to turn them against me. It worked with 2 of the nephews, it didn’t with Phil.

In the midst of it all Phillip would say to me, “I wish you were my mom.” I wanted to hug him very tightly and say, “So do I”. Instead, I gave the obligatory answer that he already had a mom. I didn’t want to make things worse for him with his mom. I often wondered if that was the right choice or not.

I remember telling Phil he would “outgrow” wanting to spend as much time with me and that was normal. His reply would always be, “Aunt Jackie you always say that. But I will always want to come and see you. Once I’m settled as an adult, I want to live halfway between you and my brothers and dad so I can see you all often.” He never got that chance.

Phillip loved life. He laughed a lot — a laugh so unexpected it made you laugh. He loved going fast on dirt bikes and motorcycles and could keep up with the much older guys when he was still much younger than they were. He was riding his motorcycle when the accident that took his life happened.

Lately I find myself thinking of Phillip more often than usual. I find myself feeling his loss more deeply. I find myself saying goodbye to him more than I have in the past. I think that’s because I am allowing myself to more freely grieve — to really let go of what I’ve held too close to the vest— too close.

I think when we lose a loved one close to us we say goodbye over many years for so very many reasons: anniversaries, birthdays, etc. But we also say goodbye to what they would have become, what they would have been in our lives. We have to say goodbye to their presence. And perhaps that’s the most difficult of goodbyes.

Phillip was to marry his childhood sweetheart a few months after he was killed. He will never have children. He will never move “halfway” so he can visit often. He will never fish at the pond again. There are so many “he will nevers”.

And I have some of my own too. I will never forget him. I will never stop missing him. I will never quit wishing he was still here.

As I sit here tonight at the pond he enjoyed, we enjoyed together, I say out loud through my tears something I wish I would have said to Phillip before he left this earth, “I wish I’d been your mom too.”

Jackie Deems copyright 2020

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Jackie Deems

Animal rescuer, farm manager, part-time shepherdess/full-time sheep, sometimes writer, cat wrangler, very blessed child of God.