In the space of five days, my newest son was born and my mother died.
Neither event came as a total surprise at the time they did, the baby least of all, of course. He was born on the day he was due, but only because I allowed him to be pushed along by having labor induced, a practice I’d normally reject, but accepted this time, in the hopes that I would get him out and get ourselves rested up soon enough to make it down to Tennessee and see my mother one more time.
It wasn’t to be, however.
My father tells me that she did know that the baby had been born and we were both safe, which is of some comfort.
Times such as these give a lot of food for thought. Strange to say, but the time I was in the hospital, my own thoughts were equally divided – about one-third of the time I spent considering the tiny miracle in my arms, another third I thought about and prayed for my mother. The final third, for some reason, I spent mostly thinking about my oldest son, he whose infancy occurred in a much different place and time, almost nineteen years ago, and who over the past months, had, in a way, taken my place at my mother’s side.
I couldn’t be there in these last difficult months but once because of this pregnancy and the distance between here and there, but this young man, with his passion for sports, his struggles with school, and his silly pierced tongue, attending college in the same town in which his grandparents lived, came when called by his grandfather, and sometimes even when he wasn’t, and sat at her bedside, holding her hand, talking to her, and listening to her talk to him about Church problems (“Even now?” I asked him. “Sure,” he said. “Nothing stops her. She’s on a mission.”).
Within days, then, life had turned once again, as it is prone to do.
My mother was gone and Joseph was here. Sorrow and joy, the circle of life, Lent and Easter. We almost didn’t need liturgy during that week which turned out to be Holy Week – we were living it.
The rest of us who remained behind wondered at the mystery as we get to know the new life gazing calmly at the world from our arms, remembering the life of my mother, and hoping that the gifts she shared with us who knew her would somehow be communicated to the little one whose existence is dependent on hers, but will sadly never meet her: that he’ll be smart and witty, that he’ll have good taste, strong faith, and an appreciation for all the goodness and beauty that emanates from God’s hand.
Back for a moment to those days – the first days of Joseph’s life and the last days of my mother’s here on earth. It seems odd that during that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the three of them – my oldest, my youngest, and my mother. Not that others – my husband, my other two children and my father - weren’t less than vital, but for some reason, during those days in the hospital, holding my baby, the four of us on my mind seemed joined together at the edge of change: a newborn, a young man stepping into adulthood, a woman drifting inexorably toward eternal life, and yet another woman, more than halfway on her own journey, if her mother’s life is any measure, bound to the others, watching them, wishing she had some kind of power to flip switches of happiness and health, but having to resign herself to the fact that she holds no such switch and can do nothing but be grateful to the One who does and trust in His wisdom.