Death and Birth

October 14, 2014

Two weekends ago we held our memorial service for Sylvia, Ana’s mom. It was at the church where Ana was baptized, where we said goodbye to Ana’s dad eight years ago, and where we were married six years ago.

The following weekend was my mom’s birthday. Carolyn Owens Mann would have been eighty-five, had she not left us (way too early, in my view) nineteen years ago. The conjunction of dates left me thinking about mothers, and even more, about death and, oddly, about birth.

The service for Sylvia was beautiful, and Ana and I both took our turns in the pulpit eulogizing her. “Eulogy” is from the Greek, meaning good words, and we both did our best to summon up the very best words we could to honor Sylvia.

In my remarks, I talked about how I’ve always seen death happening.

It’s like this.

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Imagine you are one of eight kids, octuplets, age nine months or so. You’re all sitting around together, hanging out, as you have been for … well, for your whole life now. It’s warm in here. Dark, too — but then, you don’t realize it’s dark, because you’ve never known anything else. It’s a good life. Food is free. Accommodations are comfy. No taxes. Family all around you.

Then one day something frightening starts happening. “Is this what they call an earthquake?” you think. And then, all at once, your favorite sister is gone.

Just, gone.

You can’t believe it. The seven of you who are left are all shaken and grief-stricken.

“It’s not fair!” says your brother.

“She was so young,” says a sister (the one with the flair for drama). “She had her whole life ahead of her.”

Another brother (the pragmatist) says, “But you know, she lived a good nine months.”

The middle sister, the philosophical one, murmurs, “It was her time. That’s all. It was just her time.”

One by one, each of you weighs in on the sad event, as you sit together mourning the sudden, tragic loss of your sister. And within each of you lurks the unspoken dread: Am I next? Because you all know that soon, too soon, it will be your turn, too.

Your eldest sister, the last one to speak, tries to comfort the rest of you. “She’s gone to a better place.”

You’d like to believe her. But it’s hard: to you, she’s just gone, and you are left behind with an ache in your little heart.

And all this time, your favorite sister, the one who has disappeared from your midst? She’s lying there out in the delivery room, in wide-eyed wonder, stunned by all the light, surrounded by people beaming down at her, saying, “Just look at her! She’s gorgeous! She’s perfect!”

And indeed she is.

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