I married a wonderful and amazing person. The woman who birthed and raised him is leaving us soon. She is slipping away slowly as hospice cares for her, along with her husband and children.
I have watched this family journey through her cancer, and especially her recent decline over the summer. They astound and humble me. I have been marked by the beauty of their pain.
I keep being drawn to the similarities between birth and death. Giving birth is hard work, for both mother and infant. Dying appears to be the hardest work of a person’s life. It requires similar attention and care from others; it is a drawing inward. The process requires deep concentration, intense knowing of self and a suspension of time where reality becomes only the current moment.
The awfulness of knowing we are going to be without her physical presence becomes too intense to think about much. But the joy of seeing her released from her suffering, and the comfort this family has in loving her and one another makes it less hard to take. The grief is coming slowly, in spurts, to different people at different times. It seems we are accidentally taking turns falling apart and holding others together.
Her son has been the most important gift in my life. And still she continues to give. In her suffering, in her difficult road to this place, she has gifted me again. My children have spent their summer watching someone they love die. Slowly and with dignity, surrounded by love and care, her journey has introduced them to death. Her gift gives them the ability to let go of the fear of something unknown, for now they have seen. She has given them time, the precious days and weeks to adapt to saying goodbye, to accept the inevitable end, to find comfort. She has given them a place to watch their family grieve, to see adults cry and be assured that tears are good. She has given them trust of doctors, hospitals, tubes and needles. She has shown them, in her quiet and gentle way of teaching, that behind the medical help, inside the decaying body, is still Grandma who loves them.
She has given them a place to watch deathbed prayers, to talk about feeling like normal until you remember what is happening. They know there will be moments they are supposed to feel good, but still feel grief. They understand that we are designed to be able to forget grief and find moments of joy without guilt. They see us loving and caring for someone as their body changes; as outer beauty shows it’s fickle nature we are still drawn and held by the beauty inside. There is a grace in aging we hadn’t seen before; the incomparable loveliness of truly knowing someone. She has given the adults who care for her nine grandchildren the opportunity to look ahead and prepare themselves and their children for the conversations that need to come. She is giving us all a healthy, open perspective of dealing with death.
I would never be able to thank her enough for all the gifts her person and her life have conveyed to mine. But I can say goodbye to her slowly, and know she will always remain with us through those gifts.
I can be inspired to make my own life a gift.