It’s a little after eleven on a Monday night, and my husband has just left the house to administer last rites to a man to whom he’s been ministering for a little over a year. This happens every so often; I can always tell when I hear him talking on the phone after nine at night. His particular ‘parish’–the people whom he visits, who attend the services he leads–tend to be early-to-bed folks, so a phone call that late is rarely good news.
Goodbye never comes at a good time. And even when it’s an expected parting–even when it approaches at the end of a long illness or catastrophic accident–death is never not a shock.
My husband will anoint the departing friend with oil. He’ll say those ancient words that have been repeated for generations of believers. There are assurances of mercy, promises of grace, forgiveness, and love.
I’ve sat overnight at two death beds. I’ve made my vigil as both of my parents passed from this world into the next. There is something about saying goodbye in the still silence of nighttime that makes us feel a little more alone. The dark velvet reminds of that we came into life alone and we leave it the same way.
I’ve written precious few death scenes in my books. Yet the two I have both happened at night or in the early morning. I don’t think that’s an accident.
I know that my husband’s presence will bring comfort to the soul on his way beyond and to his loved ones. I’m so blessed by knowing that God has given him the gift of sharing comfort and peace with those who most need it.
Goodbyes–especially those that feel forever–are never easy. There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that brings me a measure of peace when I’m struggling.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Today, I am 55 years old.
A dear reader wrote to me this week and said she hoped I wasn’t upset about getting older. “Not getting older is worse,” she reminded me. And how right she is.
I actually love adding a year to my age. For one thing, being the history lover that I am, I appreciate that I’ve lived in seven different decades (yes, I’m only in my fifties, but I was born in the 1960s, lived through the 1970s, 1980′, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and into the 2020s). When I consider that I was born just a little over twenty years past the end of World War II–and that my grandparents were all born at the start of the twentieth century–it’s really amazing how connected we all are to people and events that can feel so far away.
I also lost my parents and mother-in-law when they were still fairly young, so for every year I live, I am grateful.
A year ago on my birthday, I was looking forward to what looked to be a fairly serene and promising year. Books were selling so-so, but the writing was moving along. After a year of working almost exclusively on the Community Garden during the pandemic, Clint was excited about the plans for expansion and improvement. We had a new granddaughter on the way. So much for which to be grateful!
And then . . . and then.
Less than two months later, we learned that our rental home was being sold, forcing us to move. During the same week, the garden was taken from Clint. Doors were slamming shut all over the place, and we didn’t know what to expect next. The year I’d thought would be so calm and happy was suddenly unpredictable and a little scary.
Yet here I am, a year later, a year older, and all of those unknowns turned into blessings.
Our new home took quite a while to find, but once we did, everything fell into place with amazing alacrity. And we’re now less than four minutes from our oldest daughter and two granddaughters. Moving to this side of town–where we haven’t lived in ten years–has been a pleasant change, letting us rediscover old haunts and favorite spots. Clint has continued gardening on a more limited basis at several senior care facilities.
My fifty-fifth year has been one of reclamation and reunion. I’ve found my best friend from childhood–or rather, she found me. I’m also back in touch with several other friends with whom I’d lost contact over the past decade or more. And as I said, I’m enjoying some of my favorite parks, restaurants, and shops on the west side of town.
I find in this decade of my life that I both care less and care more. Some things that used to annoy or worry me no longer faze me at all. I’ve realized that getting anxious about what others do or think accomplishes nothing. At the same time, issues in the world–violence, war, intolerance, discrimination, pain, and injustice–make me cry on the regular. Even though I know these evils have existed since the beginning of time, somehow the older I become, the less used to them I become. My heart is becoming more tender instead of less. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad. Maybe it isn’t either–it simply is.
I’m grateful for work I love, and for friends who make me laugh, send me chocolate, dedicate books to me, listen to me rant, and drink tequila with me. Where and how I live makes me happy. My sister, my sister-in-law, my nephews, and my favorite niece all add to my sense of connectedness in this crazy world. Aunt Terry and Uncle John are two of my favorite people and show me steadfast, unconditional love.
I have four incredible children who are all out seeking to make our society better–and they all have the greatest sense of humor, which is the best thing they could have inherited from me. And the people they’re bringing into our family are only making us an even better, stronger family.
And then there are my granddaughters. They are gorgeous, so bright, super funny (on purpose), and the lights of my
life. Truly. Being a nana has been the life-changer I didn’t believe it could be.
The man without whom I would be neither wife, mama, OR nana is still the hottest, wittiest, sweetest man I’ve ever met. My fifty-fifth year of life is also our thirty-fifth year of marriage, and I love him more now than I did the day we said I do.
I don’t know how long I’ll be on this earth. None of us do. My parents were both 63 when they died, but three of my four grandparents lived to their late 80s or mid-90s (the one outlier had a bizarre cause of death). Each year is a gift and a victory–and I plan to suck the marrow out of them all.
(That’s a good thing, the marrow sucking. Trust me. And it’s figurative. I tend toward vegetarianism.)
Of course, we all wish we were going to be back together again at Daytona Beach, but this year, we’re virtual once more–to keep us safe so that we can meet again.
Here’s how I’m participating (all links will be on the Coastal Magic website that weekend):
Tawdra’s Q&A Friday, February 25th, 11:15 AM EDT
Tawdra’s virtual book signing, Sunday, February 27th, 3:15 PM: If you want to take part, you can preorder your paperback here and then chat with me while I sign it and then send to you.
Coastal Magic Convention Charity Anthology–available here now! All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity. My story in the book is called Cake By the Ocean and features Cal and Alex from both Crystal Cove and Love in a Small Town.
We rarely recognize last times when they come.
I’m the mother of four (mostly) grown children, and I couldn’t tell you that I recall the last diaper I changed as a mama, the last time I nursed my youngest, the last time I cuddled a little one who woke up in the middle of the night with a bad dream.
During the course of COVID lockdowns, we were unable to be with so many of our beloved church people, those living in senior centers, and over those months, we lost several to death or to relocating after a spouse’s passing. As I’ve come back to Sunday worship, those losses are all the more poignant because I didn’t know when I saw them last that it was . . . the last.
Fourteen years ago tonight, I was going through lasts with my mother.
The last time her eyes opened and she knew me.
The last time she spoke to me.
The last instruction she gave me.
The last time she squeezed my hand.
The last decision she made.
We sat in that hospital room at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and we kept watch. We waited. We were mostly women: my mother’s sisters, her niece, her granddaughters, and her daughters, my sister and me. My cousin and my son were our token guys.
It was my oldest daughter’s prom night. When we knew what was coming–because after months of fighting leukemia and rejection following a stem cell transplant, in the end, it was very sudden–we brought over my four children who ranged from six to eighteen. My husband had been living in Florida for nearly a year ahead of our family’s move there. I hated that the night was ruined for her, but being together, all of us, at the end was important.
When I look back now, fourteen years later, I remember some things very clearly. My daughter, still in her prom gown, had been given a scrub top by a kind nurse who knew that the beading on the strapless dress was chafing her arms. When she went wandering in search of coffee that night, I’m pretty sure patients thought they were having hallucinations. I remember that even in the midst of anticipatory grief, I had to worry about things that had to do with my parents’ estate–my father had died 51 weeks earlier. And I remember the love and care poured out on us by everyone at the hospital and by family and friends all over the world.
When we left the hospital late on the morning of June 2nd, I knew it was the last time. And although I’d hated the circumstances that brought us there for a solid eighteen months–for first one parent and then the other–leaving was hard.
It was an ending.
It was a last.