A curious balance

There’s a curious balance in life. Maybe the same can be said of death.

Once upon a time I watched a day-old kitten die in my mother’s hands. I wept that it didn’t have a chance to bloom and grow. I named it Edelweiss (who among you will catch that musical allusion?).

Not so many years ago I watched a sixteen-year-old dachshund draw his last breath after two needles from the vet. I wept. Profusely. So did my boy, standing by my side. He’s the one who said it had to be done. This was his beloved childhood pet from the age of four to twenty. When we left the vet’s office, my boy carried the little limp body in his arms. The lights had been dimmed and a candle had been lit. Tears rolled down the receptionist’s face.

The boy now makes his living in the death industry. After having obtained a worship ministry degree, he’s returned to school for mortuary science. A funeral director’s apprentice. His hours are long. He gets called out in the middle of the night, in the wee hours of the morning, to pick up a body.

He’s carried the old, the young, the sudden, the long-suffering.

Even a baby.

I worried, at first, about the toll it might take.

But he’s a born comforter, stalwart, as solid as mountain, as placid as a morning pond in the countryside, smooth as glass. In taking care of others, he is taking care of himself.

He is as happy as I’ve ever known him to be.

He meets people. He connects with them. He learns from them. He hears their stories, knows about their lives.

Not just the families of the deceased.

A couple of times a week, he picks up the funeral home groundskeeper and drives him to work. This man tends a farm, among other things. Occasionally he puts something in the back of my son’s car. At some point along the way he has my boy stop so he can get the thing out of the back. A cage, of sorts. The groundskeeper will set it by the woods and release whatever’s inside… a big ol’ possum, a raccoon… creatures he traps on the farm to keep them away from his chickens and eggs (I suspect he’s trying to catch a fox. Maybe he has. Maybe my boy just hasn’t said).

What strikes me is the preservation of life. That of the wild creatures as well as the domestic ones. It’s especially fascinating to me in light of the context, occurring en route to work at the funeral home. A curious balance…

Earlier this week, when the boy dropped the groundskeeper off at the farm at the end of the day, the man pointed to the goat pen:

Looka new baby goat. It’s maybe thirty minutes old.

He pointed again:

That one, maybe fifteen minutes old.

My son marveled. I could hear it in his voice when he told me the story: Fifteen minutes old, Mom. So tiny. I could see the afterbirth still hanging from the mother.

He sees death every single day. How fitting that his work should also lead him to witness life preserved and the miracle of its fresh arrival.

Such a curious balance.

Baby Goatkendrick. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March

22 thoughts on “A curious balance

  1. I love how you describe him, Fran– But he’s a born comforter, stalwart, as solid as mountain, as placid as a morning pond in the countryside, smooth as glass. In taking care of others, he is taking care of himself–

    Yes, to the balance, and interesting description of the death industry, as yes, it is certainly an industry, and one that is pretty recession-proof. Sometimes during the month, I read pieces that could evolve into more, and this is one of them, whether it’s a longer essay or even a sophisticated picture book. So much insight, so many themes, and so much beauty in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melanie, thank you for this meaningful response. I didn’t include – although I contemplated it – that my son suffered from night terrors all of his young life, yet when he started this work, they subsided. A curious balance in that… amazes me that people find the story worth expanding. I will ask my boy what he thinks about that . Again, thank you for this gift of your words!

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  2. A beautiful description of a beautiful son: “But he’s a born comforter, stalwart, as solid as mountain, as placid as a morning pond in the countryside, smooth as glass. In taking care of others, he is taking care of himself.”
    The juxtaposition (curious balance) of death with “life preserved and the miracle of its fresh arrival.” Hmmm – I’ve found a future slice!
    Your words have nourished my soul this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t wait to see where the phrase leads you, Ramona! I am happy to think of anything I write being “soul-nourishing.” What nourishes my own soul must be coming through. Thank you so much for this.

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  3. I literally had the touching chills I get when I read something so beautiful. I was there with you saying goodbye to your dog – – seeing your son comfort you, as he does. What a sweet tribute to your son (I’ll be writing about mine tomorrow on his 33rd birthday) – and I know you won’t possibly believe this, but ….there are some common threads! The edelweiss line came immediately to mind….blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow…… (was it a white kitten?) At your young age you already knew the fittingness of that name.
    And that sweet kid!! There is not another animal that amuses me more than a baby goat, jumping their sideways turning jumps and scampering happily everywhere. I love watching otters, but baby goats steal my heart every time. Your son is able to connect with the living and the dying and dead, the laughing and the crying, the happy and the grieving. What a gift! Very few people are able to do what he does, and I know that you are so very proud of him. Lovely slice today, Fran!

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    • Kim, my oldest turns 33 at the end of next month – almost to the day! The common threads…so very many. That kitten was the runt of a litter from a black cat I had when I was in my first year of college. The mother cat was a kitten in a box, being given away by a guy on campus – she had a stump tail and no one wanted her. I took her even though I am very allergic… then later that year, kittens. Edelweiss was gray and white, beautiful, and born with spina bifida – there was an open hole where her tail should be. My mother tried to save her. I wrote about this several times with classes to illustrate the power of emotion in writing – I wept and so did the kids. One said, “That’s the most terrible, wonderful thing I ever heard!” One little girl knew the song and began to sing it in a clear, pure voice…I cannot even describe my awe. The story is on my blog in years past. I struggled with putting Nikolaus, beloved dachshund, out of his suffering; I couldn’t have made that choice. My boy – my youngest – decided. He said: Mom, he isn’t going to get better. We can’t fix him. He’s weak, he can’t see, he’s losing his hearing, he doesn’t know where he is anymore…I agonized until a pastor friend who fosters dogs told me it’s part of our calling to be good stewards of the creatures entrusted to us. My boy – he’s something amazing although he doesn’t see it that way. He’s humble and as for me – yes, fiercely, fiercely proud. ❤

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  4. This is penetrating. Such a deep truth comes through in your writing. That balance can even indicate that life and death are not the opposites we believe them to be. For your son to have this meaningful connection and for you to present it to us so elegantly is a blessing. Thank you for this powerful post.

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  5. This is beautiful, as usual, and deep, as usual. I think that balance lies in the fact that we are sometimes most alive when we’re near some kind of death experience. Your son, being in such close contact with both ends of the life journey, is probably most tuned in to the value of living. I’ve had that experience of saying good-bye to an 16-year-old dog. It’s so hard, but also gives the opportunity to say what we’re feeling, which was for me that teetering balance between sadness and gratitude. I agree with another commenter who says this feels like the birth of a book. I think your son could be the main character, and the older man his partner, sidekick. To me, it’s a novel rather than a picture book, though.

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    • “We are sometimes most alive when we are near some kind of death experience”– how true, for we know in those moments what a profound thing it is to be alive. Losing a good and faithful dog… the grief is totally wrapped in gratitude for the gift of loving and being loved by such a loyal soul (dogs surely have them). Thank you for these words about this post seeming like a book – there really is more story to tell 🙂

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  6. I’ve read through the comments, and they already say so very much of what I’m thinking.

    What I’m also thinking about, now, is this idea of balance. Is there anything in life that isn’t a balance between one thing an another, or one thing and many things? It’s complex and messy and…beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well-said, Lainie. Life is a big, messy, fluid, mysterious entity of balances (think of all going on just within our own bodies, at the cellular level)… and beautiful, yes. Always love following your threads of thought.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. You write in such a meaningful impressive way and draw all those threads together that are knitted into describing life and death and the juxtaposition of those opposing essences. As Lainie said above, most people have written most of the comments I would have said and you have explained certain aspects, so we get an even clearer picture. The description of your son is powerful and gripping, I think just the sort of person someone needs at the time when a family member dies.

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