My daughter recently gave birth to a son, and I beheld with wonder my first grandchild. I entered his nursery and she proudly showed me a shelf of new books that she would soon be reading to her newborn. My eyes lit up and my emotions began to swell when I saw that same book on the shelf. I was touched that the book had such an impact on her after all these years.
Within days of my return home, I received the news that my beloved mother, who was 97, had taken her last breath and peacefully, on the last day of Hanukkah, passed on to eternity. It was now my turn to take mom into my arms.
I’m home again after officiating at mom’s funeral. I read a passage from Chapter 3 of the book of Ecclesiastes:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”
These words exemplify the Bible’s understanding of the cycle of life and they are just as powerful today as when they were written.
I feel contrasting emotions vividly in my soul — the cycle of life with a newborn followed by the passing of this infant’s great grandmother. I am the next generation now.
There was always something about my mother’s presence that protected me from the thought of my own mortality and helped me feel that I was still a young man. My sense is that she felt younger than her friends in the assisted living facility where she lived because she had a child who had just passed sixty years.
As we escorted her casket and lowered it into the grave, I recalled that cherished children’s book. But this time. it was me holding her in my arms, laying her down on the bed for a night of eternal sleep and saying, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my mother you’ll be.”
I am at peace with her death while at the same time looking forward to a new journey with my grandson and his parents. Just as there was always a sense of peace and tranquility when I laid my little daughter down on the bed at night, I experienced that same harmony and flow of life as I laid mom to rest in her grave.
I no longer see the birth of a child and the death of a great grandparent as a conflict of emotions. If, as the writer Abraham Joshua Heschel once observed, death is the “great homecoming,” then so, too, is birth the great homecoming, when a newborn is welcomed into his or her new family.
Aren’t these experiences simply two sides the same coin?
The thought of my daughter reading those words from the book to her son brings me great comfort. I hope she will one day repeat these words to me when I enter my final years: “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as you’re living, my daddy you’ll be.”
Ecclesiastes speaks of the transition of generations which affirms how a newborn and the passing of an elder belong to the same continuum of life:
“Generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever”.
I feel at ease witnessing the goodness of this new generation’s arrival. I also mourn the passing of the eldest generation.
Have I taken the first conscious step in preparing myself for my own passing and believing that it will be OK when my time has come?
I pray that God gives me the longevity to hold this new child and watch him grow up. At the same time, I know that I have left something sacred of myself behind that my parents bequeathed to me when I was born.
Now, I will pass that on to my daughter and my grandson.
I believe even more in tomorrow. As Proverbs says:
“For surely there is a future and you will not be cut off.”
My mother’s memory lives on in me, and so, I pray, shall I live on in my daughter’s and grandson’s.
Thank you God for the gift of life and memory.