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My mentor and fiction-writing coach, James N. Frey, says in a good story the ending is often implicit in the beginning. And there is something immensely rewarding about this circle where characters come back to the place they began—changed by the events of the novel.

This has proven true in life. I have been changed by events of the last month. Many of you have been following the journey my family took this Christmas. My children’s father died last Tuesday, January 20th. While he’d lived a good life and was ready, it was still difficult to let him go. 

A few days ago, my daughter asked me to find a photo of the first time her father had held her. She wanted to put it beside the last time she’d held him. I was profoundly struck by this desire. I knew how important it was to her and I knew the photo existed. I went through twenty years of albums, but didn’t find it. I eventually discovered it in a scrapbook where I’d placed cards and letters from friends and family welcoming Bonnie into the world. Next to the photo, printed in her dad’s very neat script, was the following journal.  He’d written it at midnight on the day she was born. 


Within the hour May 5th 1973 will recede into history along with all of its predecessors. To some it must have been an ordinary day that won’t be missed in the mélange of life. To me however, it was the day on which something unforgettable happened to me:  Let it be herewith recorded for history and posterity that on this day I, John Wesley Clayton Jr., saw Bonnie Elizabeth Clayton, my daughter born. I actually stood by the side of my wife and saw Bonnie emerge from her body.

To describe this event is to attempt to describe the indescribable. I don’t mean that the functional or anatomic components of the birth of my daughter could not easily be described as indeed these events have been in the medical texts on obstetrics. I intend something far different from the biological event. I’m referring to that overwhelming unity that I had with my wife. Something unique in the universe happened to us when Bonnie was born. It was as if I felt a part of her as I never before felt. We held each other’s hands during those final contractions. When I saw that God had given us a baby girl and then told this to my wife, a sensation of warmth and joy poured through me. We both shed tears of joy and in so doing experienced the ultimate in sharing. We were truly one in this act of love.  When Bonnie was born, the love we shared was reborn. The nurses and physician present realized something new had occurred because they were happy too. But they will never, never comprehend what transpired between the two of us. It was truly a renewal.

Tonight, in the hospital we reviewed the sequence of events that had occurred on this historical day. We recalled the details of labor and delivery—stopwatch in hand! After Bonnie was born (officially 12:23 a.m.) and her mother was taken to the recovery room, I followed. We embraced, and she said that I had now given her everything. I had known that she had wanted a daughter because she wanted to know that special kind of relationship that exists between mothers and their daughters. Neither of us spoke of this wish because we would have welcomed a second son into our family. But this baby—this Bonnie Elizabeth Clayton—received a welcome into our hearts as no other child before born of woman ever received. Thank you God for this new life and the love that gave it birth.


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As beautiful as those moments and others in our life were, our family didn’t stay together. John and I separated when David was 14 and Bonnie 12. They were sad and difficult days, but somehow we managed to get through them and actually became friends—good friends. 

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This Christmas I saw John for the last time. Many of you know this because of my blogs and entries on Facebook. I thought I’d said it all. But there was something that happened in the hospital I didn’t mention in my previous entries. My son, David, had taken a break to get some fresh air. Bonnie and I remained in the hospital room with their father. She sat on one side of his bed, I on the other.  I was holding his hand while she talked to him, smiled her radiant smile, and later read that amazing passage about love from I Corinthians .
 

As i watched her tenderness toward him, I had an overwhelming love for those two other human beings in the room with me. I didn't see the skeletal old man with a missing tooth, I saw the man who’d held my hand through my contractions during the birth of our incredible daughter. I saw the man who’d “given me everything” when he gave me Bonnie. We already had a son that we loved with all our hearts. I wanted a girl. I had a great relationship with my own mother after whom we'd named our daughter. My mother died three years after Bonnie was born.  I sometimes think of them as the bookends holding up my life.

And so, when I found the journal John had written 41 years ago, I thought about what Jim Frey said about beginnings and endings. I thought about how lucky I am to be a writer--to be able to think through my words and have epiphanies about what really matters in our lives. I learn things about life and myself I may not have otherwise realized.  As I held John’s old and withered hand, it was hard to know where I ended and he became. We were one again. The three of us in another hospital room more than two thousand miles away from that first one. Bonnie was no longer an infant—she was a bright star in the dark sky of that dying room. She radiated with love for the man who’d fathered her. She ushered him out of this life with the same intense love with which he had ushered her in.


 


Comments

Theresa Wisner
01/28/2015 3:04pm

This is it, Susan; that place where love meets craft. The place that is so elusive. Thanks for reaching down deep and bringing it to the light.

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01/28/2015 4:50pm

Thanks, Theresa. You really got what I was trying so hard to say.

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01/29/2015 3:35pm

What a heartbreakingly beautiful post! You are such a talented writer, Susan, the text so rich with vivid imagery. Thank you for allowing us a peek into this difficult time.

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01/29/2015 3:38pm

I love how this post started with a writing tip and came full circle. I'm so glad I found your blog!

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Linda Wilkinson
01/29/2015 3:47pm

The gift of Love from father to daughter. This will make you cry but it is soooo worth the tears. You make us all feel the depth of all the feelings. I so wish I was lucky enough to be able to say goodbye to my parents this way.

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Jane Sutherland
01/29/2015 4:00pm

I have been following your blog, silently, over the last month or so. It is a wonder to me how you turn your feelings into golden words on the page. That is what poets do.

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Martha Miller
01/29/2015 4:17pm

I'm almost speechless, Susan, after reading your beautiful post. You just added something to this World that wasn't there before, along with your gorgeous prose. Thank you for letting us see and feel the beauty and poignancy of those moments.

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Holly Boughton
01/29/2015 4:27pm

I always read your blog. This one was particularly touching to me since our lives intersected during the years you and John were together. Your words bring everything to life.

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Susan Domingos
01/29/2015 4:52pm

Very moving.

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01/29/2015 5:01pm

Only you could tell the story with such tenderness and beauty, love.

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Mike Shoemaker
01/29/2015 5:15pm

Very touching and lasting words. It's rare when so few words convey so much. You have a great gift to seize the moment and shape it so everyone can share its meaning and move forward better for having taken the time to read it.

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Martha Miller
01/29/2015 5:23pm

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Laura
01/29/2015 8:19pm

I have enjoyed reliving the memories of John I especially eme bear him teaching my daughter duck faces and to make noises with her tongue.

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Katie
01/29/2015 8:59pm

What a beautiful description of the gift God gave you in those special moments--the ones at the beginning and the end.

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Martha Ragland
01/29/2015 9:31pm

Susan, you write with such clarity of thought and heartwarming grace about the deepest experiences we humans will ever know. I'm in awe of your ability to 1) go there in the first place; and 2) report back with such moving eloquence. Thank you forever for sharing this.

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SusanK
01/30/2015 8:18am

This is beautiful and so sad - you manage to capture what it is to be human.

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Anna W
01/30/2015 9:01am

Beautiful in every way Susan.

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Dan Evans
01/30/2015 9:44am

That's just what I needed...a good weep before FWOF. You're such a beautiful person and it reflects in your writing. I'll add to Martha R's comment that, not only do you go to that place, you take us there with you. It brings me back to being at my mother's side when she passed.

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Dan Evans
01/30/2015 9:56am

I also wanted to comment that, as a father of 4 (one from previous marriage), I was moved deeply by John's epiphany that profoundly changed how he perceived love and unity of family, and life. I wish so much that I had written down my experience over witnessing my children enter the world. Each experience was different, but each significantly grew my character and love for my growing family.

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Jude Bunner
01/30/2015 3:50pm

Thanks for sharing your emotional time.

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carol tabor
01/30/2015 3:54pm

Bey moving and profound. Full of love and sadness. Thank you for sharing your most heartfelt feelings and emotions.

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11/09/2015 3:58am

Beginnings and endings of the stories and tails are wonderful and enjoyed. If the impetus and catalyst is required and provided, the skills and abilities are applied and manifested.

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Barry
03/20/2016 2:24pm

1st Corinthians, Chapter 13
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am
a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries
and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but
do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I
may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous,
it is not inflated,
5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not
quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
6 it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures
all things.
8 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to
nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought
to nothing.
9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child,
reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish
things.
12 At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to
face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am
fully known.
13 So faith, hope, love remain, these three but the greatest of these
is love.

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