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

Abecedarian poem

ABCs for Micah, on the day after your birth

Autumn-child: So lovely
being born amid crackled-leaf,
cider-steeped, cinnamon-spiked
days of
ever-bright,
flaming color, crisp and
glittering under first-frost grace.
Hallowed moments
infused with
joy while I dream of
kissing your fuzzy head, your
little newborn face.
My precious Micah,
never doubt your Franna’s fierce love,
opal-bright, like autumn fire,
perpetual, eternal,
quietly flickering,
radiant and
sacred,
throughout all our tomorrows together.
Upon your coming, beloved Baby Girl,
veritable heart of my heart, I wait in the wings
with hugs (ooooooo) and kisses
(xxxxxxx) all for you from
your Franna, so blessed with new-life
zest.

Motherlove

img_4330

“Ripe Tomatoes.” Robert Duncan.

When my first child was born, I thought I knew what love was.

But then . . .

Alone for the first time this day, I’m lying in the hospital bed, looking at the bulletin board with a few cards from friends and family already pinned to it, thinking of my mother and grandmothers.

How they warned me.

Three different times, unbeknownst to each other:

“I delivered all of my babies quickly, so don’t wait around when the time comes . . . ”

How each of them nodded sagely after giving their own individual versions of this pronouncement. Like lesser, more amiable versions of the mythological Three Fates. 

Good thing I listened, I tell myself.

I beat them all.

He came so fast.

Less than an hour after I walked in here.

*******

The doctor, thinking he has plenty of time, arrives almost too late. As soon as his gloves are on, it’s over.

“A boy,” he says. I get only a glimpse of tiny flailing arms as the doctor immediately hands my son to the nurses, who sweep into a side room to suction his mouth and nose before he draws his first breath.

Loud, remarkably strong cries reverberate through the rooms.

“Whose baby is that?” I ask the nurse attending me.

She chuckles. “Yours.”

Gracious. I never imagined a newborn’s lungs could be so strong.

Within minutes, another nurse brings him to me, puts him in my arms.

He’s already quit crying.

His father, standing by in green scrubs, weeps audibly.

This tiny face. The nose. It’s uncanny. “He looks exactly like pictures of your father,” I tell my husband.

“I know,” is all he can manage. 

Now, more than ever, I wish I could have known my father-in-law, who died when my husband was twelve. But the pictures are enough to know that his namesake, here in my arms, is a living replica.

*******

I feel a rush of something that surpasses euphoria. I recall a friend telling me about this sensation: Right after your baby’s born you feel like the most powerful person on Earth, like you could do anything. It’s almost superhuman.

The neonatal people come to take my baby.

I say I’m starving. 

My nurse brings me a breakfast tray.

After the first three bites I promptly throw up. On the rest of my breakfast.

“Sorry,” I tell the nurse.

So much for being superhuman.

My nurse, chuckling again, takes the tray away. “That happens a lot. It’s just your body stabilizing.”

*******

It’s all still a big blur, really. Family members coming, going. Grandma calling to see for herself that I’m okay, saying what she always says when she calls: “I just needed to hear your voice.”

The room is still now, strangely silent for a hospital. I hear muted voices down the hallway where my husband is glued to the nursery window, staring at his son.

The chilly gray morning has apparently turned into a sunny afternoon befitting late April; a ray of light shines through the high window above my bed onto the bulletin board. This golden finger of light illuminates a card with a little boy in overalls standing on the front: Congratulations on Your Baby Boy!

My baby boy. 

Mine.

An internal switch flips. A floodgate opens, some kind of dam bursts with a force too great for words. It surges through my entire being. My body shakes with the ferocity of it. Tears flood my eyes; I can’t see the bulletin board anymore, just the light.

He is mine, he is MINE. If anything, anyone, tries to hurt him, they’ll have to take me out first. 

*******

Motherlove.

The moment it kicked in remains vivid in my memory, many years later. My son was just hours old; looking at the sunlight on that congratulatory card, the sudden thought of something harming him nearly turned me animalistic. I knew I’d move heaven and Earth, I would fight to my death, to save my baby boy: Take me instead. I’d have been completely consumed by this force if a voice in my brain hadn’t said, Look, just be wise. Take care of yourself. Live so that you can keep him safe.

I don’t know why some women are infused with intense motherlove and others are not, for there are women who bring harm to their own. I don’t know everything that can go awry with a person’s psyche or all that causes internal barometers to not function properly. I only know the power of this moment and that the force of it is with me still, even now when my two boys are grown and beyond the protective bubble I could cast over them when they were small.

That doesn’t mean the love is any less fierce.

Mine. They’ll always be mine, as long as I am alive, and even when I am not.

For, once begun, motherlove never ends.

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My thanks to Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, whose post “The Cariest” on her blog Courage Doesn’t Always Roar in January brought back the intensity of these moments.