The Greatest Gift

Last weekend was a busy one.  We had a death in the extended family, which meant taking a quick out-of-state trip on Friday to attend the visitation.  On Saturday, we drove back home so we could help our daughter prepare for the family lunch that would follow the baptism of our grandson on Sunday morning.  One of the disadvantages of growing older is that I don’t bounce back from those kinds of weekends as quickly as I used to, so I am only just now actually processing those recent events.

In many ways, the death of a loved one and the baptism of a baby are completely opposite events.  One life is ending and another one is just beginning, and the emotions we feel are so very different.  It doesn’t matter if the death came at the end of a long and well-lived life, or if it was sudden and completely unexpected, we still grieve and wonder if we are ever going to feel quite whole again without that particular person in our life.  And you don’t have to be religious to feel the wonder and joy of an infant baptism, since it represents the beginning of a new life full of promise and hope.  Any way you look at it, funerals and baptisms are very, very, different.

But as I look back over the weekend, I realize that those two seemingly polar opposite events have one very important thing in common.  At both times, family and close friends gathered together to offer community and support.  In the one case, they came to offer comfort and share memories of the loved one who is no longer physically with us.  In the other, they came to show their support of, and love for, a rather new little person who is just beginning his life journey.  But in both cases, the important thing is simply that they came.

Sometimes, life gets in the way and we can’t actually be present when someone needs our support.  Last week, the mother of a dear friend of mine also passed away.  Unfortunately, her funeral was held on the same day as our family’s visitation, five hundred miles away.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t physically be there for my friend.  But I could still reach out to her, thanks to modern technology, and make sure she knew she had my love and support.

Life will always be full of ups and downs, of occasions that seem unbearably sad and of other occasions that fill us with joy.  And the people who gather with us at those times to share our grief or our happiness are a powerful reminder that we aren’t in this alone.  They are the community that supports us through the life’s biggest changes.

So my take away from this busy last week and weekend is simple:  be there for those who need us.  Physically when we possibly can; or by calling, sending flowers, a card, or even a quick text when we can’t.  The details don’t really matter.  What’s important is just that we be there for each other, each and every time we are needed.

69 thoughts on “The Greatest Gift

  1. The cycle of life in full show. Some move out, some move in. All transitions are significant, and as you rightly acknowledge, community is very important to honor these transitions. And yes, showing up any way one can, even as there are pulls in many directions. I recall a card I received many years ago from one of the nurses in my office. She recognized that as my mother was taking her last breath, her granddaughter was taking her first. The wheel of life continues to turn.

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    • You’re so right, the events of this past weekend just highlight the real circle of life. Which, when we really think about it, makes it so much easier to accept the transitions, particularly the losses. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. You say one needs not be religious in order to celebrate the arrival of new life and in order to come together and lend support for those who lost a loved one. You are so right about it, Ann. But if you are Christian, then both events take on even greater meaning, as they are on the one hand the wondrous introduction of new life to the community of believers and on the other hand the exit of our temporal stay here on earth to the glorious realm of eternity. In a spiritual sense then both are joyful events.

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    • Yes, for those of us who are Christian, both baptisms and funerals have a much deeper meaning. And, particularly in the case of funerals, give us reason to have hope even in the midst of our grief. Thanks for articulating that, Peter!

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    • I know! As much as I get annoyed by how technology seems to be taking over our lives, it does give us a way to reach out to those we love in their times of need, even when we are very far away. And that is a huge gift!

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    • Thanks, Alan! I was definitely thinking of how opposite the two events of this weekend were, which helped me to realize how the major milestones in our lives, good or bad, are made so much better with our community. The older I get, the more I realize just how important that community is.

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  3. Beautifully written, Ann.

    As a kid, I remember family get-togethers for baptisms, wedding and funerals. It was always an occasion to run wild with my many, many cousins. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the meaning of what we were doing – but now when those occasions are steeped in meaning, I watch the grandkids run wild with their distant cousins and think – that’s what it is really all about.

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    • Thanks, Greg! I love that children come to these events, because you are so right. They may not yet understand how important their presence there is, but they are learning at an early age that friends and family come together at the important times in our lives, both good and bad. And the older they get, the more they realize just how important that is.

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  4. I’m always fascinated when we acknowledge the beginning and end of life. My internist once told me, “When we’re born, everyone makes a big deal. When we die, everyone makes a big deal. Otherwise, in the middle, we just go on with our lives.” I thought that was interesting.

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  5. Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your family member, and also my congratulations on the baptism of your grandson. It’s funny how the loss of our loved ones is so often balanced by the birth of new loved ones. I wish I could figure out this mystery called life, but I suppose we won’t know the secrets until we’re in a better place. Sending love, Ann…

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    • I don’t think we can ever fully understand, at least not in this life. But gathering together during the important times does help, I think. And having a new life come into the family around the same time another member is lost does help us put things into perspective, I think.
      SO GLAD you are back, Kim! I’ve missed you!!!

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    • I agree! There is something life-affirming in the way we gather with each other in both the sad times and the happy times. Personally, it gives me a sense of being a part of a chain of events that started long before I was born and that will continue long after I die. And there is comfort in that!

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  6. There was a documentary on people who lived to 90 and beyond and they talked about outliving friends, siblings and in many cases their children. The common thread was that although they had lost people they were not alone – they continually welcomed new people into their lives. They had a community and were engaged in life as participant opposed to simply observers. As I become the “older generation” in my family, I see the wisdom in having that kind of attitude. I’m sorry you have lost someone special. I’m glad that sorrow is balanced by the joy in a new life….

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    • Thank you! It was my sister-in-law’s mother who died, so she was not a close personal relative. But she was a very special person who always made me feel so welcome and who was such a gift to her family and friends. I know my sister-in-law will feel this loss very strongly, and was glad that we were able to be there to offer support in this difficult time. And my grandson’s baptism did help put everything into perspective. Life does go on, and that is a good thing!

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  7. Recently I had to choose between going for my cousin’s son’s first get together function (6 month old baby) and my grandmother’s 84th birthday. Both happened in the same house but a week apart. I couldn’t travel on two consecutive weekends due to work commitments and so I opted to go for my granny’s birthday. Two people on the two extremes of the life line (if i can call it that) and I really wanted to be with my granny. Though it was a very small get together, I felt so good being there. I was reminded of that incident when I read your blog.

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    • Yes, sometimes we have to choose and that can be hard. Personally, I think I would have made the same choice you did, simply because your grandmother is older and you won’t have as many years to enjoy her company as you will your cousin’s son. And sometimes, those small gatherings are the best kind, because it’s easier to really talk to people!

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    • It can indeed! And I can’t imagine how hard it is to lose a daughter who is still a young adult. That’s when someone would really need the support and care of their community, I think.

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  8. Your last sentence is a great wrap-up and so important. To those we love, it means a lot to be there in one way or another, “each and every time we are needed”. You’re right, it’s impossible to to be everywhere at all times, but it usually doesn’t take that much to let people know you care.

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  9. First, I’m sorry for your loss – even an extended family member dying affects others, it’s like an inward spiral. The baptism must have been a joyous occasion for your family.

    You’re quite right, we should make the most of our family and friendships before these things occur, extend a hand when it’s needed, as a matter of course, but… life does tend to get in the way, don’t you find? All the best intentions, and all that…

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    • It really does, which is one of the reasons I’m grateful for modern technology. (Although I also have several reasons why I’m not grateful for it!) My friend and I exchanged several texts, which did make me feel as if I was offering some sort of comfort. Of course we sent flowers and a card as well, but that’s not the same as actual communication. Thanks, Val!

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  10. I have observed that often in families and perhaps i5 is coincidence, an older member dies and a new member is born. The circle of life. So sorry for your loss. And yes, the all important message of reaching out to show and give support to those who need it.

    Peta

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  11. Beautiful post. It brought to mind one of Brian Andreas’ “Story People” drawings where the caption says—in-part—“it may be the real reason we are here [is] to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.”

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  12. I’m so sorry for your loss Ann. Always such a difficult and sad time. A death, birth or baptism always makes us contemplate our mortality doesn’t it, and what’s truly important in life. A poignant and touching post. xo

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  13. So true. I’ve sort of had that same revelation in the past year watching my dad’s health decline and his ultimate death but then appreciating my community of support so very much. Great post!

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  14. Here in Mexico, I have noticed that the Mexican people are very family oriented. Today, as I was walking around the town of Orizaba, I watched a young grandmother showing her small grandson a duck pond, and teaching him about the birds. I thought about you, and also how much fun it will be to have grandchildren some day. I loved your post, and appreciate the reminder to be respectful, conscientious, and present for others.

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    • Thanks so much, Joe! The events of the past few weeks certainly brought home to me just how important it is to be present for each other in our times of need, and also in our times of celebration.
      And I hope you do become a grandfather some day! Believe me, it is wonderful!

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