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.