This is the Living.

I’ve been thinking about my grandparents again lately. It seemed like the two summers preceding the one we are in now were almost identical: our family away on summer vacation, getting home and finding out the news that a grandparent is dying, funeral a week later.

We got home from our summer holiday on July 25, 2008. I remember the night before talking to my granny from a payphone by the swimming pool at Diefenbaker Lake. That was the last time I spoke to her before the stroke she had on July 26th, the evening after we got home from our holiday. She passed away holding my handing and moving her head in my direction as she let out her final breath on the evening of August 7th.

July 28, 2009 was two days before we were scheduled to get home from our three week-long holiday. It also would’ve been my grandparent’s 68th wedding anniversary, but it was grandpa’s first July 28th without his Marjie. It was also the day grandpa would get the news that he had very large cancerous tumour on his lung. The morning after we got home, I went to my parents’ house (where he’d been living since granny passed away), put my head in his lap as he ate breakfast at the table, told him how much I loved him and didn’t want to lose him, and he put his arms around me as we both cried over the realization that he wouldn’t be with us much longer. He died on August 5th surrounded by his children and me with my hand feeling the last beats of his heart.

I had been scared my whole life of losing my grandparents. My dad’s parents had died, each of cancer, when I was 5 and 10 years old. Young enough to remember, but still too young. I remember in university telling my grandparents how I didn’t want them to die and how much I’d miss them, and they reassured me that they weren’t going to die (any time soon, anyway). But still, there’s always that feeling of fear that you’re going to lose the ones you love and the wondering about how it’s going to happen.

But I will never forget the feeling I had the night that my mom called me from the emergency room telling me that granny had just had a massive stroke. In place of the fear that always sits there under the surface, there rose up a kind of resolution. “This is what is happening. I am going to face this.” (The only other thing I can equate it to is that scared feeling that lives with you for the last weeks of your pregnancy as you dread the impending birth only you can go through, but when the time comes the fear leaves you.) The seem feeling happened the day that grandpa died ,and before I was even out of bed in the morning my dad called to say that grandpa had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. “This is it. This is how it ends. But I’m not afraid.”

So much of life is spent fearing those moments — the moments of death and separation, and even birth. The moments that are filled with pain and uncertainty. But when I think about the birth of my children and the moments when my grandparents’ died, I realize that that is where the living happens. All of this every day stuff that we do, making meals and driving around and going to work, are like the shadows that only occasionally get eclipsed by real moments of living. The moments where sacredness and beauty are felt because they are passing into and out of being, where we truly get a sense of their impermanence and the preciousness that comes from impermanence.

These are not the moments to be feared. At least not in the “scared” sense. These are the moments to stand in awe of and to feel the honour that goes along with being part of the rhythms of life as we come to be and pass away in all of our wretched beauty.

Posted in Life, Life & Faith, Memories, Philosophy | 8 Comments

8 Responses to This is the Living.

  1. Marc says:

    Hmmmm…is our moment-to-moment living really a “shadow” of the “real” moments of living? Sounds almost Platonic.

    I would suggest, rather, that those moments are sacred because it is then that we come face-to-face with life and death. Those moments are no more living, in many respects, than me thinking about what you’ve written and typing my thoughts out or finishing the dishes afterwards.

    I don’t disagree that in those moments we sense impermanence and preciousness–but that’s it: we are sensing. But impermanence and preciousness is the reality of every waking “shadow moment”. We just take it for granted until someone dies.

  2. Marc says:

    PS. We may well be saying the same thing, here. I just have trouble with the notion of “real living” happening elsewhere other than right here and right now.

  3. Toni says:

    Interesting – Marc has said something similar to what I had in mind: that all the ordinary times are the ‘real life’, and how we’ve lived it gets validated (in a sense) by the way in which we deal with the times out of the ordinary.

  4. rebs says:

    I love how real you are. You still grieve and miss your grandparents. Life is precious and can be taken at any moment. In my church here we felt that as we attended a funeral for a 5 year old who was murdered and then heard of an old saint who was taken to be with Jesus in his sleep. Both deaths rocked the church and both of those people who died were well remembered and missed. Both of their lives no matter how long they were lived made an impact on those in the church and others around them. I want to live my life in such a way that no matter when I go I will be remembered as one who loved Jesus and who kept my eyes on him even when life threw curve balls.

  5. SharonK says:

    I love how you have expressed these precious feelings, Dixie. I totally understand what you are saying and I agree with you. I believe that real life is lived in those sacred life and death moments and that our daily lives simply take us through on a whirlwind to these other moments of true being. Love you…..

  6. beck says:

    I haven’t come to a place where I can see ALL those moments of sacredness as something not to be feared… Not that I would have missed being there… But only because the thought of not being there was even more terrifying than the horror of having to be there.

    A pastor at my parents’ church spoke in a message about those sacred/beautiful moments a few months ago. It made me very angry in many ways. Not that there was anything wrong with his message… Or with what you wrote here… I just wonder if I will ever get to a place where I feel like that… Like that moment was in any way beautiful.

  7. Dixie says:

    Hey Beck, when I saw your name up on the sidebar I thought, “Uh oh, I wonder if this post was hard for her”. I mean, it’s all well and good, for me to see the beauty in the moments of my grandparents’ death when they died at an old age, having seen 3 (&, before my grandpa died, 4) generations come after them. But it does seem different when death comes too soon. Maybe I’m just hoping it can be similar, that there is beauty in each coming to be and passing away no matter when or where it happens. I’m sure when we think of it in terms of God’s redemption, it’s possible to see it, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

  8. beck says:

    Yes, that’s it exactly. It’s possible to see it, but not easy.

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