A Baby Arrives & A Friend Walks On
After a week of high temperatures and drying winds, I woke this morning to grey skies and a gentle drizzle that softened the air and felt like a blessing on my cheek. The garden still needed to be watered, of course, and it felt comforting to rinse the dusty leaves and watch the water soak into the soil instead of pooling and running off the desiccated crust. Coming after a cool, wet spring, just a week of high heat relentlessly dried out flowers and foliage despite daily watering. Even the indomitable oregano got fried in a few places where the plants get a lot of reflected heat. Now, there’s a lot of tidying up to do in the wake of the heat wave. Some plants sailed through just fine, others faltered and some simply gave up the ghost. Gathering up the crisp, browned and battered looking stems, I found myself thinking about how quickly a living branch can become shriveled detritus fit only for the compost heap.
Perhaps my mind took me in that direction because this week has been one of swift reversals and vivid contrasts. On the positive side, a far away friend whose pregnancy has been very difficult was safely delivered of a healthy baby after a scary period of doubtful outcome, a joyful blessing to the whole extended family. That joy was balanced by the fading away of a dear friend who recently suffered a fall and a brain bleed. Over the past few days, as I sat with Mary to give her daughter a break, I thought about her rich, full life with awe and appreciation. A pastor, an educator, and a firm and faithful friend, her generous, useful life touched hundreds if not thousands of others in positive and life affirming ways.
A Life Well Lived, A Life Broken Off
The slow, quiet hours of sitting vigil are often both as sweet as sad, especially when the departing person has lived a long, full life. Sometimes I knit, sometimes I sing or talk softly, knowing that people can hear us even when they seem unresponsive. Sometimes the time was shared with visitors who came to whisper a few words or share a story or two. Members of the choir Mary and I have sung in for years came to her bedside to sing her on her way, with many shared remembrances and tender moments. Another group, the Threshold Choir, came to sing their beautiful songs of passage a few hours later, and a few hours after that, Mary peacefully walked on. Mary was a woman of strong and thoughtful faith, faith that showed up in her daily life as well as in her writing and speaking. I didn’t need to cry for Mary’s passage, as it seems very clear that she will be greeted with joy and thanksgiving wherever and in whatever form she may be.
As I walked home yesterday, which turned out to be Mary’s last day on the planet, I was thinking about Mary’s legacy of love and hope, courage and strength, and feeling so blessed to have known her. A block away from home, I met a friend who told me with horror that another friend’s son had just died in an accident and the stricken, shocked parents had to make a long, arduous trek into remote Canada to share that terrible loss with his sibling in person, so he wouldn’t learn it alone and far from home. Then, I cried. A lot. That death felt shattering, heart breaking, devastating. A recent college graduate, a talented musician, an endurance athlete, a funny, smart, remarkable person with loving family and friends, gone in an ungraspable moment.
Vulnerability Without Shame
A dear friend, another choir member, is a hospice chaplain who generously offered her services to any of us who felt the need for comfort. She pointed out that a new loss can get emotionally connected with other losses and griefs that we may not have had time or resources to work through on our own. The resulting tangle can feel overwhelming and unmanageable. As my late, beloved therapist used to say, “Well, hello to that!” Sounds about right to me! By now you will probably be relieved to hear that we are finding a time to meet and I’m definitely looking forward to the luxury of doing some deep work with someone I appreciate and admire.
Growing up in New England, seeing a therapist was considered a bit shameful and embarrassing, a solution only for weak people who can’t suck it up and keep soldiering on. It’s poignant to dream into what my family life might have been like had emotional help been available and acceptable. I am so grateful that the idea of soldiering on has zero appeal for me now and in fact feels like dysfunctional denial. As an elder, I get to honor my own vulnerability and that of others, to learn what self care looks like at this stage of life, and to accept help with gratitude. Onward, right?