Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life and Death

My dear friend sends a text~~She and her family are gathered around a loved one whose battle with cancer may end today.

It's a jolt. It brings tears. I bow my head. Nothing I can do, but pray--and text back tender words.

The same day, my dear daughter sends a text~~A dear family who we've known and loved for 30 years just lost a young granddaughter from a sudden illness.

I feel intense sadness and want to do something; but again I am lost in my inability to make it better.

So what role do we play in the two sure things of life? Birth and death.

Given that death is the guaranteed eventuality of every birth, and most always is accompanied by extreme grief, it is all the more reason to celebrate life.

I remember when each of my children entered the world; it was joyous without saying. A new life! A miracle! A person with personality all her own; a person with her own face, features, tiny hands, long feet, ears that lay flat against her head, deep brown hair.

I remember the people who celebrated each child's beginning life, often mere acquaintances whom I didn't expect to even notice-who sent a gift, made a blanket, or sent over cookies. The old farmer across the street whose wife brought over a jar of peach jam. Each person understood a new life was a celebration and helped us to celebrate with the smallest gesture, greatly appreciated and remembered even when the last birth was 23 years ago. Even though a child's entrance into the world brings great joy, it is surrounded by difficulty: the recovery of the mother, the shift and interruption to life. My daughter is currently suffering from lack of sleep and reminded me that sleep deprivation is an act of torture. Families need our acts of celebration in the birth of a new child.

Though my father's body had worn down and he was weary of living, his departure from our family was heartbreaking. A day doesn't pass when I don't think about him~~when I see his smile, remember his latter days shuffle, when I am reminded of his generosity.

Always I will remember the people who helped us celebrate in a reverse kind of way, his letting go of life, his return home. Our grief. They came. They brought a spiral ham, paper plates, fruit, flowers, a hug. They saddened when I shared the news. I felt their empathy. They sat through our memorial and stood by our sides when we dedicated Dad's grave.

Life and death are invitations to participate in the emotions and memories of joy and sadness. Both events are the passages, the measurements of everyone's existence. It is the commonality we all share as humans. It makes us equal and the same.

It is an opportunity to share and love on a deeper level. They are the circumstances in which we need one another.

Postscript: Almost twenty years ago, a dear friend told me a story I will never forget. When her father died, a woman who didn't know her family read his obituary in the newspaper. She drove across town to bring my friend's family a plate of hot rolls and a jar of her homemade jam. She just wanted them to know she cared.

This week, when I tell my mom the story, we both tear up.

My 78 year old mother says, "I want to do be like that lady."

I am amazed that such a kind, simple act would have an impact twenty years later. The roll making lady would probably be amazed too. May the universe karma find her and deliver.