The perfect ending: Ben and I together, sharing a sunset or maybe a bottle of wine. It is a quiet moment, one of shared tranquility, and it is in the silence that I am struck by the fact that things have shifted, and we survived some sort of storm. I will smile and reach for Ben’s hand, then say, “You know what? We made it to the other side.”
We are far from perfect, or from an ending. I keep asking myself what will define “the end,” anyway? A miracle? Death itself? Life is full of endings and beginnings. I see them every day.
A few days ago, I stood before a collage near my craft supplies in the guest room (all-purpose room?). I hadn’t looked at this inspiration board for years, clearly evident by the dust accumulation and dated images. One of the first items I included was the note that came with a delivery of flowers from my grandpa for my first Mother’s Day. I was pregnant with Felicity at the time. It read, “Dear Little One, Happy Mother’s Day to be. Love, Grandpa.”
I never keep things like that. My dad hoards papers and so does Felicity, so I constantly purge scraps and notes (except some touching cards or letters). But I can’t imagine tossing this card, not ever. It’s one of the last icons of life before Grandpa fell gravely ill and died only a couple of months later; my world was forever altered after that.
I miss him. I realize that as I write this. For some reason, he continues to creep to the forefront of my mind, and I notice my heartache at losing him remains nearly as painful as it was when grief was new, nearly ten years ago.
Endings and beginnings – they are nearly the same, as one converges with the other. They connect, overlap, embrace. We are never stagnant in this life; something always evolves in and around us. That is simply the nature of what it means to exist, to be.
I think of such things, because Mother’s Day marks all the significant beginnings and endings of my life: an end to infertility and a beginning to caring for a little human; an end to freedom and a beginning to the deeper call to love through self-sacrifice; an end to control and a beginning to surrender. There has been no greater metaphor of that mystical experience where endings and beginnings co-mingle than in becoming a mother. The life I once knew will never again be. I am no longer merely a daughter, a child – now I am a mother, an adult. I am beckoned to emerge from a state of being nurtured to doing the nurturing.
Endings and beginnings.
Ten years ago, Ben and I started down a path we couldn’t fathom would involve this cruel self-annihilation, this being crushed over and over again. That’s the reality of saying yes, of opening one’s heart and mind and body to growing a new life. It isn’t just life we welcome, but all the little deaths, too – the possibilities and impossibilities – that come alongside birth.
As Felicity grew stronger in my womb, my grandpa languished. His death marked an ending to my childhood, the ending of an era. Yet on the heels of his death was the birth of a new generation, a way in which his life and legacy, in some way, carries on eternally.
When I gave birth to Felicity, I cried. It was as if the “me” I’d always known no longer existed, couldn’t, in fact. I couldn’t look back, but it was in the looking back – the reflecting – where I found myself again in fragments and glimmers. My birth signaled new beginnings for Grandpa; I made him a grandfather just as Felicity made me a mom. But neither occurs without a jarring opening up – for me, an almost violent awakening – to the stark reality that I could mourn all of the endings while celebrating all of the beginnings.
I suppose that’s what tears are to me – the one outward sign that everything is falling apart and coming together again, that everything is not okay but is okay, that I want life as it was before but am trying my best to look at what good may come in time. Except, I am not so naive as I once was, before becoming a mother. I know my tears shed now are also for the future milestones: my children’s first day of school and graduation, their first love and first breakup, their discoveries and shattering of innocence. My tears are for the sleepless nights up with an infant and the sleepless nights up worrying about my teen’s whereabouts and safety.
A mother cries from the depths of knowing both agony and ecstasy. And nothing else comes close in comparison. We trade one sorrow for another, one joy for another, and sometimes a sorrow for joy or joy for sorrow. But truly they are inseparable and that is why tears are the silent but powerful hallmark of a mother’s love. They express the knowing without the saying. They are the only words her heart can express as a showering or a cleansing that heals, repairs, understands, seeks, and never, ever ceases to love.
When I became a mother, I finally understood my mother and grandmother and all the women before me. I am becoming them in the growing and learning and unraveling that happens to me just as it happens alongside each of my children. The becoming is where endings and beginnings merge.
Every year, Felicity laments, “I forgot to get you something for Mother’s Day,” and every year I respond to her in a smile with a twinge of sadness, “That’s okay.” But this year I want to tell her, “You’ve already given me everything. You’ve taught me how to love –
- the first snowfall
- to delight in the sighting of a rabbit
- to run in the dandelion fields
- to find the budding leaf or fledgling bird or tiniest ladybug
- to rejoice on Christmas morning and Easter Sunday
- to care for the plight of the poor
- to listen with interest to other people’s stories
- to relish the quiet moments, fleeting though they may be.”
Each child is the opportunity, the possibility, in a mother’s life, because he or she is the primary teacher in the school of love. And love never happens, or stays, without a price. It is costly. And it hurts. But it is the one thing, the only thing, that matters in the living and the dying every day.