This morning, on the first day of the Christmas holidays, I went to pay my respects at two funeral homes. The history teacher’s mother had passed away the day before. The physical education teacher’s young mother had been run over by a truck.
The first death was expected. She was an elderly woman whose time had come. In Spain they have a saying for these cases, ley de vida. This can be translated as “law of life”, or “the natural order of things”. We live, we get old and we die. We bury our parents. We mourn them. We lose a part of our past, our history. And then we try to move on for the next generation.
The second death was sudden and unexpected. It happened on Monday, but there was no hope as her head had taken the blow. The family didn’t have the luxury of time to adjust to the idea or tell her goodbye as her mind was no longer there. The family decided to donate her organs when the time came. This was not the natural order of things as she was still a middle-aged, healthy woman.
I dared not give my co-worker any words of hope or advice as I hugged her and told her how sorry I was. Grief is personal. When I had a miscarriage and people told me “it was better that way” I felt like giving them the proverbial slap in the face. I kept my mouth shut. Not the right time. Nevertheless, I do hope that she will eventually find comfort knowing that her mother’s death has allowed others to live.
As the second funeral home is in the same city as the hospital where my son is currently “residing”, my husband and I had lunch in the hospital cafeteria. After the meal, we had to wait an hour and a half for visiting hours to start. My husband took a walk and I stayed at the table reading a book called Ordesa, by Manuel Vilas. In chapter 45, the author is cooking for his nearly adult children and reflecting on parenthood. His firstborn child needed an operation at the tender age of 15 days and the mother had whispered “my poor son”. I was envisioning Michelangelo´s Pietawhile Vilas was reminded of the Stabat Mater. He compares the love that his wife felt for her child to motherhood from the beginning of time. He didn’t know which was more painful, “the mother’s tenderness or the danger that their child was in, or if one added to the other creating a deep river of love, gentleness and fear.”
I can feel that river. I live in it. Sometimes I swim, sometimes I wade and lately the river is so deep and the current so fast that I’m swept under. I come up for breath and have to dodge branches and logs. Sometimes I try to grab onto them and let them to take me downstream until I can reach the shore. But I can’t see the shore. Why isn’t there a shore?
Visiting hours were starting. I went up to son’s room. We exchanged small talk and played a game of Magic, a card game that I am learning to play for his sake. As my husband was with me today, I decided to take the elevator downstairs for some quiet time. There is a chapel and an art exhibit on the lower level. While I was appreciating one of the paintings, a young man walked through the main entrance carrying an empty infant car seat. I was invisible to him as he passed by me towards the maternity ward. Ley de vida, I pondered as I watched him walk away. I hope their lives follow the natural course of things.
This is dedicated to my dear aunt and uncle who lost a free spirit long before his time.