Life and Loss
May 12, 2018 was gearing up to be the start of yet another art fair weekend. The forecast promised a steamy day out on the blacktop of the Wichita Art Museum, windy too. It was the first day of the show and I had already sold a couple of reproductions in the first hour. It was a decent start, I had certainly done worse. Anna and the kids had come by for an 11:00am lunch with me in the booth. My mother was walking the show with Ernest IV, and Mira was being fed by Anna behind the booth. Anna's phone rung. Even though I did not know what had happened yet, Anna's reaction sent my mind into a panic.
Anna's father, Robert "Bob" Minneman had died in a farming accident. It came like a blow that leaves one concussed. I was in complete shock, disbelief. We embraced for a long time, sobs racking Anna, art fair attendees shopping in the booth completely unaware. Bleary-eyed, I made my way over to the event coordinator, relayed the information, and said I'm tearing down now. My best friend, Jamin Still, who was also exhibiting his artwork at the show, offered to tear down the booth and pack away the artwork, and return it to our home. May I just pause to say this is what true, loving friendship looks like. Also, he was overrun by other artists at the end of the day who had learned of our loss and wanted to help. The arts community is amazing.
Everything after that was a blur. In moments like that, your body just takes over. We hastily closed the tent ushering shoppers out. We drove home, threw some stuff in a bag for all of us, and left for Tescott, KS about an hour and forty-five minute drive.
It was a long drive and all dread. I knew the reality we were driving to and with every mile we were coming nearer to the truth I did not want to be true. In some sense wasn't yet.
We made it to the farm. Again shock and disbelief reigned. He had just gone out that morning to clean up after a storm, and now we were all gathered in the home waiting, processing, greeting, embracing, and weeping, only Bob wasn't there.
It's funny how things sink in for us in different ways. For me it was when I moved a newspaper off a chair to sit down. As I picked it up I noticed it was the puzzle section face up. Bob always did the puzzles in the morning and May 12th was an ordinary day, just like each of us have every day. He had completed the cryptoquip and the word jumble. His work as evident by the handwriting. I thought about how precious and dear those lines of ink were, still drying perhaps!
I was reminded of the words of James, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” The passage is NOT saying don't plan, but it is saying be sober, life is fleeting, time and chance happens to us all. God knows, we don't. I think implied is, right now is it! Live like it.
The following days were full. I had never been this close to the event planning that goes into death. All preparations, visitations, services, served meals, all with two little ones in tow, distracted me from truly grieving. It will be a long process. It's still strange existing on this side of May 12th knowing but days previous, we were all around the dinner table, and that I can't go back to that.
Bob was an amazing Father-in-law. I had an inkling but I didn't know the complete package I was getting when I married into Anna's family. He could back a sixteen foot flat bed trailer into our backyard with only an inch to spare on each side. (Mind you he had to maintain that for 40 ft!) He could do complex equations with fractions in his head when we were doing house projects while I just nodded, "sounds right." He was nice enough to help me with all my crazy framing ideas and helped build the frame for "Struggling Sailor, Sleeping Savoir," and "Obedience, Indulgence, and the Absent Vintner." He was grandpa all it's fullness. I grieve bitterly for Ernest IV and Mira who cannot understand the loss. He was a farmer and he could do anything. Therefore I had confidence every time we took on a project, it'd be finished somehow just like we finished the kitchen together a couple months ago. I don't have that anymore.
In the nine years that I knew Bob I was always inspired by his deep, unshakable joy. I've seen him in all times of life. He was a follower of Christ. No matter what was happening, joy was present. Joy goes beyond our circumstances, our feelings, or even our digestion. His love and genuine interest in others left everyone feeling unique and special. The outpouring of support and gratitude from the community has been remarkable. I sat there with an letter opener for 2 hours non-stop just opening cards, not looking at them, just opening.
At some point you have to go back to the demands of life. So here goes! The next painting I make is going to be about hope. If you think that seems contrary then I'd like you to send me an email: email@example.com and we can talk more about it.
You can watch this painting happen on patreon.com/evwiii. For those of you who are patrons, thank you. You've made seasons like this more steady and I'm forever grateful.
Ernest Vincent Wood III