On the morn of my 49th birthday

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I want to tell you something, but you probably won’t want to read it.

No one wants to.  It’s not a pretty flower or a puffy heart.

Recently, you-know-who has been standing in the corner over there, watching.  I don’t want him to be there, but he has been, so ever-present in the lives of my family as of late.  Even my husband Mike has commented on his recent ricochet around us – its seven degrees of separation.  The 50-something dad of my daughter’s friend hit & killed by a car on Bailey & Washington, just  short walk from our home; Mike’s engineering colleague and his teen son in Kalamazoo (“I didn’t know him at all, but still!  They made an announcement at work,  You hear about these shootings all the time, but god . . );  then, my mother’s friend Barbara drowning on remote Easter Island.

all in one week.

My beautiful daughter Katie, as a 5 year old,  once whispered to me, as I lay beside her after bedtime stories:  “Oh, mama!  I can’t wait to go to heaven!  Won’t it be wonderful?”   I assured her that yes, of course heaven would be would be wonderful, but that I hoped she’d stay a long time here with me and her dad and her big brother Ben.

I don’t know what happens when you die.  I wonder about it a lot though.

I know my mother does too, especially now, after losing one of her best friends, who was more like a sister than friend.  My heart aches thinking of it.

Such is the threaded placental connection of mother to daughter (and to son) to mother – each feeling the other’s suffering and joy  like waves racing between shores.

In some ways, I am many stone skips ahead of my mother, having danced with death a while already, for a decade now if you can believe it.  You do that when a nurse calls you while you are at work and tells you the doctor needs to see you about your test results.  And then it’s an early spring day in March, with your husband beside you, in hard plastic chairs “I’m sorry” the doctor says telling you news your heart already knew. And you do that dance – when your oncologist guides you from the treatment room to her office “here let me show you”  as though you were her work colleague, to look over her shoulder at graphs on her computer of  5-year mortality rates for various treatment combinations.

To be honest, this wasn’t what I intended to write this morning.  Not at all. Not even close. Yet, sometimes the page calls us to be brave, and speak of things others might be afraid to.  For example,  I was afraid to write the word “cancer” here.  I thought by writing it, I would be wooing it back somehow.  My grandmother Gloria wouldn’t say the word “cancer”.  Wouldn’t allow its utterance in her home. That was how afraid of death she was.  (She also would not stand for any picture of a bird in home – these  harbingers of Death – she thought, always so superstitious)

To be human is to be afraid and not to know.
To be brave (and to have faith) is to walk forward anyway, with your raw heart open, and sometimes to share what is inside it, without understanding why.

3 thoughts on “On the morn of my 49th birthday

  1. Colleen: First of all, Happy Birthday to you! This post really spoke to me this morning and I thank you for being brave and putting the words on the page for me to read. We have had a string of deaths in our community as well, but they have been young people, taken too early – before their lives had even yet begun. And it has rocked the worlds of my children, especially my two teens. This: “Such is the threaded placental connection of mother to daughter (and son, I would add) to mother – each feeling the other’s suffering and joy like waves racing between shores.” It rings so true for me as I try and navigate the waters of their suffering right now, trying to keep us all afloat. I had this thought just yesterday, how I longed for the days of nursing a newborn in the middle of the night. Can you believe it? In comparison to what mothering is asking of me today, I thought back to the days of midnight feedings and countless diaper changes and thought, “It was so much easier back then.” Relativity is a wondrous thing. And so are you! Happy day of LIFE to you! May this be a very blessed one, indeed.

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  2. Thank you, Barb. I am grateful for your having read this piece and that it touched you. . . . funny, I was reminiscing about 2 am feedings over the weekend and what a special time together that was with each baby (the 6 am feedings – not so much). I am sorry to hear about how death (especially of such young people) has been so present in your community and your children’s lives, It is challenging to help them navigate their feelings, when you yourself are stunned and overwhelmed too, Thank you for being such a faithful reader and friend. (And yes, it has been a beautiful birthday so far)

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  3. Your words so exquisitely rendered. I look forward to the day I can turn the pages of your book and laugh and cry and nod my head in resonance. I, too, am facing death today as I learn that my uncle has three fully blocked arteries and no hope for recovery. I hope he finds heaven enchanting and that my dad greets him with a hearty handshake and beer. Thank you for writing so bravely and so deep. Happy birthday dear one.

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