Dad Died with Dirt on His Hands

We are now separated, but only for a time.

I believe that my father has not ceased to be. Rather, his soul has simply left his body for a time. As the Sage once said, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Though his body is now empty and decaying, his soul is being carefully kept by God himself.


Not many of us get to die the way we wished. But my dad did. A man of the earth, he had a great passion for plants, a love for flowers and trees and all manner of flora. He saw the beauty in each of them, the unique promise every one held to make this world just a little brighter, a little more beautiful. He committed the best part of his life to gardening, and though he was gifted at design—at analyzing what a space was and imagining what it could be—he especially loved the work itself. “Dad, you’re 70,” we would tell him. “You’ve got to stop working so hard.” But work was what he knew and work was what he loved. He told us he would be content to die if only he could die with dirt on his hands.

In the hours after his death, my sister sent me a photo of his hands—his Working Man Hands. And, sure enough, they were stained with dark, Georgia mud. He had spent the better part of the day laying floors in the apartment he and my mother were about to move into—a bright little walk-out in the basement of my sister’s house. And then, before he headed home for the day, he paused to plant some tulip bulbs in her front yard. He had envisioned the spot where a splash of color would brighten the garden when winter at last gave way to spring. And it was there, and it was then, that it happened. He died by a garden. He died with dirt on his hands.

I rushed down to be with my family—a flight from Toronto to Atlanta, and a drive from Atlanta to Dalton. When I finally arrived I was asked if I would like to go to the hospital to view his body, to see him one last time. I opted not to. I opted not to because I don’t care to have my final memory of my father to be there and to be that. I’ve got another memory I want to hold on to.

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