On Friday morning when I woke up, I lit a candle we brought back from St. Augustine for a friend who was in labor. I knelt and prayed for mother and baby in front of our family altar, asking for a safe and joyful delivery. By noon, I heard that mama and baby were safe and after saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracle of new life, I blew out the candle and went about my day.
That afternoon, I received news that sent my head was spinning and I sat down on the hardwood floor when I heard that a very beloved professor who became a dear friend was dying. I hadn’t even known she was ill. A mutual friend got in touch with me to say that after a valiant fight against leukemia, she was going home to spend her last days with her family. She has twin girls, only nine years old. Her name is Susan and she is lovely. Although I didn’t even take one of her classes, she took the time to befriend me. Not because it would help her career, she taught in a different department, just because she knew I was overwhelmed and lonely as a new mother and needed a friend who wasn’t a single college student to talk to about motherhood. She and her husband would bring us meals and I would carefully watch her interactions with her twins, taking mental notes. She is such a good mother and after babysitting her daughters and spending time with them, it was clear that she and her husband had been so intentional and thoughtful in their parenting. Her girls are bright, warm, imaginative little girls with delightfully untidy curly hair. My heart breaks for them. Susan is the kind of mother that I strive to be. I still can’t believe that they will lose her. Losing a mother at any age is painful, but you so deeply need your mother at nine.
So, I lit a candle for the second time, knowing that this second vigil will end very differently than the first. I cried, prayed, and after nursing my baby to sleep, tried to go to bed myself. When my teething baby girl woke every hour or so in the night to be comforted about her painful gums, I didn’t sigh at the frequent interruptions to my sleep like I usually would. I cherished every second of holding my precious baby close to nurse her back to sleep and prayed for Susan and for the girls she has to leave.
Birth. And Death. So close together. The similarity of birth and death was on my mind. This morning I heard that one of the twins will be baptized today. A beautiful depiction of death preceding new life. And I started to think that perhaps the first vigil is not so very different from the second. The pain and suffering of labor preceding the joy of new life. The pain and suffering of death preceding life eternal. The symbolism of baptism: dying to live in Christ. And I kept thinking about T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi” :
…were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
I thought about the birth of Our Lord, always under the shadow of the Cross. And I thought about the Cross: the defeat of death and our redemption, salvation, and only hope. Both new life, and both death. Joy and sorrow. Sorrow and joy.
As I keep vigil in my heart for Susan and her family, I will pray that the Mother of Our Lord will gather the girls under her starry mantle as they face the sorrow of losing their mother. And I will thank God for the honor of knowing Susan and for the hope for eternal life in the midst of pain.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death – 1 Corinthians 15:26
Please remember Susan and her family in your prayers.