There is such a juxtaposition between birth and death. At the end of 2011, we were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first grandchild. At the exact same time, my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital for supposed shingles. Little did we know he would never come home. It just overtakes your life so quickly. One minute you are cruising through life, with the normal ups and downs, aches and pains – suddenly – as in a moment – life completely changes. Our grandson was born! What a joy he was at that moment, and still is. My father-in-law, while in hospice and becoming less and less of this world, was able to see and acknowledge his first great-grandchild, being able to touch him. It was an amazing moment, seeing my father-in-law, surrounded by his son, grandson, and great-grandson. He quietly slipped into the eternal arms of Our Lord a day later. Such a dichotomy of emotions overtook all of us…joy at that moment, and then a profound sense of loss.
I am still packing Christmas away, and mourning the end to a wonderful, family-filled holiday season. My mother- and brother-in-law both came to share Christmas with us. It was the first Christmas my mother-in-law has spent alone in over 50 years. I was glad she was here, with her sons and grandson, and even a brother- and sister-in-law. It was good to be together. I am also grateful for the gift of technology! My daughter-in-law and I both have the iPhone app of FaceTime! It is wonderful. So many moments we get to share, live, because of it. And my mother-in-law was able to share some moments with her grandson, his wife, and her great-grandson. It was precious. Watching her watch her great-grandson was a priceless moment.
The reason for the post is that I am realizing that, once again, I am experiencing that juxtaposition of life and death. My step-father has stage 4 lung cancer and mesothelioma, which has now spread to his bones. Speaking with both he and my mom last night brought home to me how fragile life is. We last saw one another at my middle son’s wedding in June and a mere six months later, he is fighting for his life. He had a persistent cough at that time, that he had attributed to a bout of pneumonia that just did not want to go away. A short couple of weeks after my son’s wedding, he was diagnosed with cancer. I feel like we are on a re-wind mode in life, because now that son’s wife is expecting their first baby in May, and my stepdad is fighting for his life. Within the space of a mere 12 months, in our family we will have welcomed two new children into this world, and watched as two others of our family have passed to their final rest. I just don’t get why it seems to be this way. There is an old adage that “it always happens in threes” and I pray it just does not. But my best friend’s daughter is expecting her first baby in June, while her father is ill in the hospital and only just heard he is going to be a great-grandpa. And that would make our three! It just does not seem fair, and at the same time, it is life and all its cycles.
My eldest son commented to me last night, after having spoken to his grandpa, that “this whole generational-shift thing is hard.” And I had to chuckle and smile…it is a theory I came up with a few years ago. I was saying something to my kids and I realized I sounded exactly like my mom. It made me stop and analyze the moment. And I began to realize that my life was the life my parents had, when I was a kid. And that their lives had become the lives of my grandparents when I was a kid. And that my children now had the life I had as a child. I had “moved up a notch” in the generational stacking of our family tree, as had my children. My eldest son, ready to celebrate his son’s first birthday, is once again facing the death of a grandpa, and me a father-figure. And we have definitely shifted, especially with his younger brother now expecting a child, and my youngest son firmly ensconced in his teen years. And I look back and realize how fast this all happened.
I remember two incidents from my childhood that particularly stand out right now – (1) my dad telling me, when he was about 40, that although he looked like an old man to me, on the inside he swore he was 18. I laughed and thought, “Yeah, right” at the time, but now I can totally relate, and then some! And (2) my mom responded to a lament from me during summer vacation between my sophomore and junior years of high school, when I complained that summer was taking too long because I could return to school DRIVING!!! And I so wanted to drive to school that next semester!! She said, “Don’t wish your life away. When you are my age, you will want to slow it down.” I thought she was crazy! Now, I wish to God I could still the hands of time.
This morning, my husband sent me confirmation of a business trip he has next week. I remember learning of the trip at the beginning of December and thinking, “That’s a long way away; we have to get through Christmas and the New Year first. I’ll think about it then.” And here it is. And the end of next week, I am flying to Alaska to see my grandson, for his first birthday. It seems like yesterday we were awaiting his arrival, my father-in-law just grumbling about his aching back, and my stepdad being his usual, funny self; my middle son anxiously awaiting his last semester in college and impending wedding, and our youngest dying to go snow camping with the Scouts. So much has changed. New life, and lives taken. And all of this has gotten me to thinking and soul-searching.
Blessed Seraphim is speaking to me; to each of us. We can get all caught up in the worry of this world and it can absorb us and make us tremble and ache with the rapidity of the days we experience in life. Or, once again, we can choose to be of God and lay our worries at His Throne. Our worries, our short days, are of little impact in the ways of God, but He also counts each of our hairs and knows each of us by name. It is He “Who calls us and for Whom our heart is searching” and I think that even in the letting go of our final breath, or in the welcoming of new life, if we lay it all at the Throne of Life itself, we gain peace and infinite comfort. And though I know the days are short for my stepdad, and that they seem long for my daughter-in-law as she longs to see the face of her unborn baby, I know that because both of them chose to walk with God rather than with society, they know that He is the only “worth” to struggle towards. That gives me immense peace. Because I have also chosen to live, not of this world but just in this world, with my eyes focused on God, these comings and goings become part of the rhythm of our lives and when our generation shifts up a notch, because we are looking heaven-ward and not earthen, we are buoyed and comforted by the vision of God. One day, for each of us, that “searching” will be over and we will be at home.