Saturday, April 18, 2009

we come. we go. we love.

In the past few days, I have vicariously experienced a birth and a death, both through the lives of two of my dearest friends. So, I've been thinking about the coming, the going, and the striking parallels that exist between the two.

My dear friend Kelly ushered in a new life this week, giving birth to her second child, a girl, Ellery Jane. Just look at her for a second. Is she gorgeous?

Simultaneously, my dear friend Meredith ushered a life out of this world, as she sat by the side of her father, dying of cancer, and helped him to go as peacefully as possible.

I first thought of the connections between being born and dying when my dad was in his last few days of life. We had spent one year doing everything in our powers (physical, mental and spiritual) to save him in his battle with cancer. When it was beyond clear that the cancer had won out, and there was nothing left to do but help keep my dad comfortable, I had this weird feeling like I was eager/anxious/impatient for him to cross that threshold into death.

We had a pamphlet from the hospice nurses that told us the signs to look for as death came closer and closer. Each symptom we could detect and check off of our list made us hopeful we were closer to helping my dad to be free from the body that had totally failed him. Sort of like how each contraction brings a baby closer to a different kind of crossing over. We'd wait and watch. Any changes? Any developments? Is he any closer? We were watching our dad labor toward death.

As Meredith's dad got sicker and sicker and closer to death, the stages he went through were so exact to my dad's last stages that it is beyond eerie to recount.

A week before my dad died, he was obsessively and confusedly talking about having to pack for a trip, having to go get his passport, getting ready to go somewhere important. Meredith's dad focused on packing boxes, but the metaphor is the same. Both had hallucinations and seemed to be pointing at something or someone across the room. Both had loud rattly breathing that was almost unbearable to listen to.

And both of us sat by our dad's bedside and wiped mouths, patted foreheads with washcloths, held hands, said "It's okay. You're going to be fine." Even "You can do this." Sound familiar?

I was getting email updates of Kelly going into labor at the same time I was getting phone updates of Meredith's dad slipping away faster and faster.

In fact, I was on the phone with Kelly getting the detailed labor story when Meredith tried to call to say her dad was probably within an hour of death.

Then Meredith called last night at 10:20 to say he had passed. The waiting was over. I won't state the obvious here about the different outcomes of all the waiting.

We kept Meredith and Jason's three kids here last night, and while I was getting everyone fed this morning, I was imagining what I would say to Meredith when she arrived in a few hours to pick up the kids. I had some weird slip and imagined myself saying "congratulations" to her just as I would say to a new mother.

But actually, it does fit here too.
Congratulations, Meredith. You gave your dad the most perfect and beautiful gift of ushering him onward with dignity and grace. You traded sleep for your dad's comfort. You wiped his face, and adjusted his pillow and told him it was okay and you let him go when he was ready. You got him ready and proved the power of a daughter's love.

And Congratulations, Kelly. You did all of that hard work and made it through all of that waiting and physical discomfort for Ellery. And every move you made during labor and delivery you did with the thought of her coming, and the joy of helping her get here safely. And what a sweet reward you each earned in greeting each other at the end of it all.

I love how I understand my two friends so well during these milestones, as mothers to our babies, as daughters to our parents, and everything that overlaps, and crosses over, and weaves us all together.


Emilie said...

Oh Emilie
Your blog brought such a perspective on Dad's last hours--I was too numb at the time to see the parallel but the juxtaposition of your two friend's experiences make it all abundantly clear. The cycle of life is a powerful and spiritual mystery that is as reassuring as it can be devastating. The absence of your Dad in my life, along with the presence of my three kids and four grandchildren all combine as an ever-present reminder to me of both the heartache and the beauty of the inevitable.
Thanks for your insightful words,
Love, Mom

Emilie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meredith said...

I cried reading this.

Weaving us together, yes, like the moments in which Reed and Rozzy were born, and we cried and (eventually) laughed together about our enormous babies with birthdays within days of our own and names that begin with R.

You said that being with your dad at the end was the most intimate experience of your life. Yes, and the welcoming of Reed and Rozzy, too.

Thank you for writing the words I didn't know I needed to read.

With all my love and gratitude,

Tiercy said...

Wow, you so beautifully captured the connection for us. I was at a funeral yesterday and thinking that just like birth isn't the start of us, death isn't the end of us. There is so much more to our journey then what is between life and death. Thank you for sharing this post. It will be one that I go back and reread I am sure. Love ya!

Carver Fam said...

Oh, em. Beautiful...

Michelle said...


So beautiful!

I never knew the part about your dear father feeling like he needed to pack for a trip.

I remember visiting him at the end and being miserably aware that I had no idea how to act or what to say.

You were so gracious to Todd and I.

I remember going home and drinking a lot of wine and crying. For him. For you all. For how unfair it all was.

Congratulations Emilie! You labored for your Daddy till the end. He knew you were there. He knew he was surrounded by his family and all your love. He knew you all would take care of each other and in the knowing of this he was then free to travel.

OK I gotta go find a tissue!

Baute Family said...

Your words still fill my heart with peace. I still vividly remember the day you called and told me of your dad's passing. I sat on Trina's bed crying and in disbelief....just wanting so bad to see his loving, warm smile. Thank you for being such a talented writer!

Paige said...

Emilie, I'm surprised that Michelle didn't mention it, but this cycle of life fits so well with us too. You see Noah Pagley and Kyle Bumgardner share the same birthday which is also the day your dad died. I remember thinking how interesting it was that Uncle Klaus died on Noah's birthday. I knew I would never forget the date and never forget him. I really hadn't experienced someone's death that meant a lot to mean in a long time prior to Uncle Klaus. So, I remember sitting and thinking of Uncle Klaus's death and sitting and thinking of Noah's birth and how we were just on different parts of the same journey. It was emotional, happy and sad all mixed together until you really blended both emotions for both events because through both events there was so much love present. I loved your post and it brought me back to that day with you. And over the years, all of your postings of that day have made my understanding more complete than before and more happy than I had before to realize how much love can exist between a daughter and her father.