Yin and Yang

Writing on the circle of life is trite and cliche, but here I am again, a year later, with another birthday/deathday post.

Last year my friend died on my youngest son’s birthday. The end of one life at 44 and celebration of 4 years for another offered a roller coaster of emotion that forced me into hyperawareness. I took 450 photos at the beach that day, and kept 85. I can recall the physical position of my body for each of those 85, and how many tears or deep breaths followed each.

This year my eldest is having a birthday on the same day we bury my grandmother. The morning included giggles and chess and special treats. The midday involved tears and reciting prayers, hugging and trying to tolerate loved ones. And traffic. Jesus Farnsworth Christ, the traffic. Then laughter and french toast dinner and gifts and a long chapter book.

My brain almost shut down with exhaustion that night, having stimulated every single part of my neuro-cognitive-emotive mind, from memory to emotion to quantum physics and stifled Church giggles. (Seriously, if you tell a group of Irish Catholics that the response to the interstitial prayers is ‘Lord, have mercy,’ you can’t help but laugh when, by the fourth round, they’re all saying, ‘Lord, hear our prayer.’ Such is religious Pavlovian response, and I reserve the right to laugh out loud, even at a solemn event, when my brother shrugs and says, ‘Lord, hear our prayer and also have mercy.’)

The nature of life is death. We know this. But there are quite a few days of full-blown glorious life before we reach our eventual death, even if we die, as my friend did, painfully young. The counterbalance to joy is sorrow. And exhaustion. My sorrow on this birthday-deathday was keenest at the point in my reading where I said, “look at all she has left.” Because I was lucky enough to have a grandma whom I adored, meet and love my children. I don’t know that life gets better than that. I really don’t. Accomplishments and glorious food and wondrous sunrises and breathtaking hikes…these pale beside the knowledge that my beloved lived long enough to love what I made. To forgive me my tresspasses as I forgave those who trespassed against me. To offer a sign of peace.

Peace be with you. And also with every single person on this planet, amen. Please. Every single person, forgetting none. Genuine peace. Thank you. Amen.

Of course it’s hard to have a memorial, regardless of circumstance; and it was particularly hard to have a memorial on the day my amazing baby turns Nine. I felt I couldn’t fully mourn because I had a cake to make, a boy to cherish, a life to live. Nobody is fond of death. We rarely talk about it, except when we need a cathartic release of all the stress and pain woven into our daily lives. You can’t cry about a tough meeting, but you can cry about your grandma’s stroke. You can’t cry about the pressures of co-parenting with a person with priorities so completely different you wonder why you ever made it past the first date, but you can cry that your friend died too young, leaving his children irreparably altered. This sorrow, though, is always tempered by the joys of life. Nobody’s death is all of another person’s life. We all have parts of ourselves untouched by even the closest loves. I feel guilty that part of my life are seemingly undisturbed by grandma’s death, just as I feel guilty that parts of my life don’t change just because my children live, thrive, grow, and blossom.

As hard as it is to say goodbye, I loved my grandmother. That’s richer than chocolate mousse. She loved me. That’s sweeter than clean, clear water on a hot day. We told each other we loved and appreciated one another. That’s better than gold. Heck, that’s better than applause. I saw her a few days before her stroke, and brought her a favorite treat that she enjoyed with marked pleasure, despite all her frustrations about not being able to read, walk, or hear as she wanted to. She high-fived my son and told me stories from her time as a young mother, a time when women had to quit their jobs once they married because employers assumed marriage was for childbearing, women were exclusive childrearers, and work was for men. It was a good visit. And it was one of hundreds.

I’d still really like one more talk with her. Or ten. Or maybe one thousand. Yes. One thousand more talk, please.

We are a miracle, my family. Your family is one, too, with all its blemishes and warts and struggles and eases. We are miraculous because of those who came first, who built, and who endured.

My grandmother did these with style and grace.

"My mom used to say, 'Am I responsible for all this?'"

“My mom used to say, ‘Am I responsible for all this?'”

And so in honor of my dear, sweet grandma, I offer a birthday card. Because life doesn’t stop, even when there is pain, even when there is sorrow. In fact, life becomes more sweet, and I pay even closer attention.

Happy next phase, grandma. May your next eternity be peaceful, restful, exciting, and funny. I love your laugh and hope the Universe gets some piece of it, forever.

Happy, happy birthday to my incredible, hilarious, impressive Nine Year Old. May your next 90 years be full of people like your Great Grandma: kind, understanding, resilient, and welcoming. And may you bring some piece of that to the people you meet, as well. I love your laugh and hope the Universe gets some piece of it, too, forever.

Peanut, 2006-infinity and beyond.



Rose 1916-2015.


12 thoughts on “Yin and Yang

  1. When my grandmother died, my oldest son was four months old. We went to the funeral in New Orleans, where my son started to cry and my husband had to take him out of the room for awhile. I was flustered and a little embarrassed, as new parents usually are when their kids make noise in public. My dad leaned over and said, “There is no more joyous sound at a funeral than a baby crying.” I saw the point.

    I would add that laughter is not always a bad thing at a funeral, especially if you’re celebrating a person who was known for her laughter, as your grandmother seemed to be.

    Happy birthday to your oldest, and peace be with you, in the Catholic sense and all others.

    • Thanks, Kristin. As a former Catholic, I bristled a bit at some of the platitudes the priest read. But as a former Catholic I also found solace in the ritual. And that’s the point after all.

  2. This post has touched me tremendously, and I thank you for writing it. As someone who recently experienced loss, it is oddly comforting to read about others’ experiences. I’m glad that you have your son to bring some joy to such a sad day. Happy birthday Peanut!

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. Reading these recent posts about your grandmother reminds me so much of the pain and heartache involved in my own beloved grandmother’s own last months. Although Aura was only two when her great-grandmother died, she still talks about her as if she knew her for years and years, simply because we bring out and relive our Nanny memories again and again. And we’ll do it for Jax, too. I know the memories are nothing compared to the Real Thing, but then again, they’re worth a whole lot, too.

    Thinking of you. And a big happy birthday to the Big Nine.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss . Your post gave me time to think . I have experienced the loss of a loved one , and I asked what’s is life . Between the beginning and the end , there is always an path more or less short percosrso We Should all live in all its nuances and contradictions .

  5. Apparently I’m binge-reading your blog today. So sorry for the loss of your beautiful, spirited grandmother. What a lovely tribute to a special lady! I’ve experienced so many losses, and I’ve yet to be able to turn my heavy emotions into words that reflect any semblance of what I’m feeling and the lives these people lived. Reading pieces such as this one brings me so much comfort. I hope to someday be able to honor my deceased loved-ones with writing as pure and captivating as what you’ve accomplished here. Thank you. I needed to read this today. Cheers to the life of Rose and the cherished memories.

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