Were we led all this way for Birth or Death? There was a birth certainly. We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.
T.S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi)
When we were younger, in our twenties, with all of life ahead of us, weddings came up frequently among our friends and acquaintances. Never a summer went by without at least one or two to celebrate. A few years later, everyone was having babies, and there were showers and christenings to participate in. As offspring of older parents, we both began dealing with the loss of our parents soon than most of our acquaintances, both through old age and illness, but it wasn’t long before cousins and friends began grieving such losses themselves. The last few years has been a plateau with hardly any of these life passages, but suddenly we seem to be back on this particular circle – a colleague lost her daughter last week to an anaphylactic reaction which was too strong for her epi-pen. An old friend of my father’s passed away last weekend, after a few years of increasing ill health. On the other hand, a friend of my daughter’s is getting married next week. Another colleague is about to go off on maternity leave.
Yesterday, my plans to work in the vegetable garden, getting caught up on weeding, transplanting etc were abruptly put on hold when Lifeline called me to say that my neighbour’s alert button had been activated, and he wasn’t responding to their call, would I please go and check. This happened a month ago, and turned out to be a false alarm – he’d knocked his bracelet while working in his greenhouse, and never realized it (he’s very deaf). So I wasn’t initially concerned. However, long story short, this time was different. When we eventually got in (we have a spare key), we found him on the floor of his bedroom where he’d been since the night before. His wife is away visiting grandkids, so he was on his own. He was OK, but we called the paramedics anyway – at 94, with brittle joints, it seemed risky to let him move and he was complaining of pain in his shoulder. Poor guy – he was furious that his body was letting him down like this, but he was telling me that his body is wearing out after a life of hard knocks. And in the same breath, he’s telling me how many grandkids, and great grandkids they have, and his pride comes through loud and clear.
Once he’d been taken to the hospital, and we’d locked up behind the paramedics and come home again, it was hard to go on with all the mundane things of the day. Eliot goes on to say in his poem Journey of the Magi, that: “this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us”. I would have flipped that yesterday to say that watching an aging man used to a physical independent life have that independence wrested from him by a failing body is a hard and bitter agony. He was not happy that I called the ambulance. Due to his very poor mobility, I’m sure he’s worried that it’s not long before he needs to be placed in care. And he will hate that. But his wife is tiny, and elderly too, there is no way she can cope if he falls like that. I hate that I was the person that has started the ball rolling that will probably lead to him losing his independence, but I know I was right to call the paramedics. Life is tough sometimes.
And then…this morning, when I went to let the chickens out, I could hear cheeping from the broody coop. Right on schedule Mama the broody hen was hatching her eggs. She wasn’t happy to have me check on her, but at that point in the morning two little golden balls of fluff had emerged, and by lunchtime, a black one, a white one and two more golden ones were evident. She was sitting on 12 eggs, so we’ll see how many more hatch, but I was reminded of the inexorability of the force of life. It surges onward, powering this cycle of birth and death, all the ups and downs of life in between.