On Christmas Day our son Gerard — the youngest in our family (he has three married sisters) — became engaged to his longtime girlfriend Sarah. We were all elated with the news and couldn’t wait to share it with everyone we could think of.
It wasn’t until late that night when all was quiet and I was alone with my thoughts that a sense of desolation pried open my tightly held sense of satisfaction that the last of my children had found a soulmate.
The sadness took me by surprise. It was a feeling that I’d been given a nudge toward eternity, or at least obscurity. I guess I’m just feeling a little old.
Recently Ron Rolheiser, OMI, asked the following questions: “What is my own reaction to new life, especially to life that threatens me, that will take away some of my own popularity, sunshine, and adulation?
“Can I, like the wise men, lay my gifts at the feet of the young and move toward anonymity and eventual death, content that the world is in good hands, even though those hands are not my hands?”
I wasn’t feeling threatened by this new life and I’m perfectly willing to lay what gifts I may have at their feet, though it will be a long time before I’m ready for anonymity. It was more the definitive realization of no longer being needed as a mother is needed when her children are young. Gerard has been away from home for almost six years and while he hasn’t “needed” his mother for a long time, there was the illusion that, as long as he was the youngest and technically single, I could still claim the role. On Christmas night I clearly understood I no longer had that claim.
There is a gradual shedding of things large and small as one grows older. You don’t notice them at first. A shadow in the mirror looks like a spot of unblended makeup until you realize it’s a line in your skin. A single line. Eventually you notice the plum shade of your lipstick leaks into what has now become many creases.
Years ago someone told me I had slender fingers, that my hands were beautiful. I was proud of my beautiful hands. Now my left index finger bears the line scar of having had a bone spur shaved down. A bone spur is as ugly as it sounds. Other fingers are becoming twisted, knotted, swollen. It is painful to take off my wedding ring or grip a large cup of coffee.
This winter is wearing on my bones. Bones that are light and thin — porous, like sponge toffee, but not as sweet. Ice is my enemy.
But winter is hard, and not only on those growing older.
Yesterday I went to the funeral of the father of three very young children. They looked like fragile birds as they followed the casket into the church and sat with their grandmother. At the end, as they processed out, the two little boys looked bewildered, tears streaming, and their sister was draped over the shoulders of someone tenderly carrying her.
I stepped out of the church into brilliant sunshine that, despite it being January, felt warm on my face — the kind of winter day that would ordinarily be considered a gift. But this day the sun glinted off of a black funeral car, its smoked glass windows concealing three children inside.
I felt guilt at the sense of relief that the funeral was over, and ashamed at my puny laments that today cannot withstand the light of the January sun. And I can go home in a car that does not have smoked glass windows.