The Old Man and the Sunflowers

Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. I’m not willing to take any chances yet, but I can see that the time is coming. Hooray!

That doesn’t mean I’ll soon forget about how terrible this past year plus has been. I’m sure you won’t either. I’m not ready to tell any stories about what we’ve lost—or who we’ve lost in our family. That will have to wait until some healing takes place.

But I did take a look at other painful times in my life to see how I coped with those difficult times. And I found this story I wrote in 2004 a few months after my father died. The external facts of this story are true. My dad had many regrets when he died. And he was a born-again Christian who found comfort in his faith. And a swath of sunflowers as described in the story did appear some months after his death. 

My mother, who followed my father in death many years later loved this story. I hope you will like it too. 

The Old Man and The Sunflowers
By Luanne Brown


An old man lay dying, in his bed, in the back room of his house, surrounded by his big garden, on an island along the Pacific Northwest coast of British Columbia.

The old man knew he didn’t have many days left to see the wonders each sunrise brought to his garden. He knew that he would never pick the purple plums that were promised by the pinkish buds on the tree. Nor would he crunch through the yellow skin of a transparent apple that would form once the white flowering blossoms gave way. The orange-crested finches and robins that ate from the bird feeders just outside his window would hatch their young, but he would be gone.

The pain in the old man’s body matched the pain in his failing heart. How much he regretted. How much he was leaving undone. He longed to tell his wife of 56 years how much he loved and treasured her trust and companionship. But when he opened his mouth to say those words only complaints came out. Habits of a lifetime die hard.
He wanted to tell his children, two girls and a boy—all quite grown up now—that they had always brought him great joy. But he couldn’t stop pointing out not what they had done well but what they could have done better. That was a father’s job, wasn’t it? It had been so in his day. 

The old man had seen and done many things in this life. He had worked with many emotionally sick people and made them better by easing the pains of their past. But he could never ease his own pain, which was caused by witnessing things during a war that no human should ever have to see. The sights of this war seared blind spots into his outlook on life and cast shadows on the people closest to him.

They had loved him anyway, because even with the darkness he carried inside, his brilliance and his humanity burned brighter than anyone they knew. The old man saw this more clearly now that he was dying. Too weak to correct the problem, he felt regret seep from his pores and drench him in its bitter perfume.
To cheer him, his son built a bird feeder on a pole high enough for the old man to watch from his bed and the man's faithful friend filled the feeder every day with enough sun flower seeds to attract birds from across the valley.                                      

The sight of the birds comforted him. Of even more comfort was his faith in Jesus and he knew (and hoped) that after his death he would go to heaven and spend eternity there. He so longed to be reunited one day with his beloved wife and children in that wonderful place. But he knew because of his resentment and anger towards the world that he had not done a very good job of demonstrating to his family that believing in Christ could transform one’s soul.

The old man knew there wasn’t time to make all the wrongs he had done into rights. Nor could he erase the pain his unkindness had etched on the hearts of his family. How much they had given him. How much acceptance and warmth they had extended his way. Why had he squandered it?

By this time, the old man had grown so weak he could not speak. He prayed that he could send a sign to his family that he was grateful for their love.
And then the old man died.

And in dying, his spirit was set free.

He found that he could leave his bed unhindered by pain, that he could move through the windowed wall that used to separate him from his garden and the bird feeders.
He felt the pull of heaven and felt the closeness of his beloved mother. Filled with the knowingness that in spirit all things are possible, he scooped up a handful of sunflower seeds as he passed by the birdfeeders.

He took the shortest path towards heaven and scattered the sunflower seeds behind him, hoping that his wife and children would see that they pointed the way to everlasting life.

***
Two months later the old man’s wife sat on her porch and marveled at the path of yellow-headed flowers that stretched from the birdfeeders, diagonally across the yard, to the corner fence.
She called her children and asked them each to travel from a great distance to see this sight. And when they came, the four of them stood together in the garden, leaving a gap between them where the old man had always stood. 

The abundant sunflowers, now taller than the tallest grandchild, were a magnificent sight. His children looked at each other and laughed with delight, for they sensed, as one, that these flowers were a gift from their father. His wife smiled. She had always known there was love in his heart—and in the heart of God, and at least to her and her children, these sunflowers proved it.