It’s a funny thing, but this Christmas has me thinking about death. Oh, not in a scary, sad, “ghost of Christmas future” kind of way. More like in a “So I wonder what happens next” sort of way.
My oldest child got married in July, and two of my closest friends are about to become grandparents.
I’m thinking about the fact that my generation is in the process of taking the next step up the ladder, making way for a whole new generation of young parents and their babies. I’m thinking that life has carried me along the winding road to where I am now, and that everything that has happened before now has led me to be ready for this next step upwards.
I don’t mind thinking about my own turn as “Nonni”, whenever it comes my way. I don’t mind leaving the parenting to a younger set. I don’t mind being the one who will one day get to cuddle, spoil, tickle and hand back. I’m ready. Life is a winding road, but it leads us all to the next phase.
And I’m thinking so much about my Dad. He loved babies, he loved kids, he loved holidays and crowds and too much food and really good conversation and chaos and laughter. He loved us. A lot.
My Dad died six years ago. For me, the world seemed to stop turning after his death; how could the world go on without him? But gradually I realized that the seasons continued, the days flowed by, the children grew and my hair went slowly grayer. My life went on, but I also began to understand that his did, too. I felt him, I “saw him”, I talked to him in my dreams.
I have felt my father’s hand and his hug and his breath many times over the past six years. A few months after his death, my daughter needed emergency surgery. When she slowly awoke from her anesthesia, she told me, “I was with Grampa. He was wearing a flannel shirt and he sat with me, holding my hand. We were at a little round table. I felt so safe with him there.” She told me that she saw my Dad look at his watch, then look up at her. She told me that he said, “You’ll be OK now. Time to go.” He got up, hugged her, and left.
And she woke up, looking at me. She knew that he was with her. I knew it too, because I felt it deep, deep in my heart.
This morning I read the blog of a wise old curmudgeon who goes by the humorous name of “Daddy Bear”. In his thoughtful post “New Year Thinkering”, Daddy Bear thought about his own death. He phrased his ‘thinkering’ in such a lovely way that I understood that a lot of people hold my belief that life goes on, even after death has found us. You should read his gentle words. You will find comfort and inspiration.
This Christmas, I had my children around me. I felt my father in the room with us, smiling and laughing and enjoying the love that they feel for each other. For Dad, family was everything. He valued his family more than anything else in his life. I felt his spirit in the laughter and joy of my boys on Christmas. He would have been so proud of the love that my children feel for each other!
This Christmas, I gathered with a huge group of my cousins and their children, eating the same traditional Christmas foods that go back generations. We ate octopus (“pulpi”) and squid and shrimp, cooked the same way that my Grandpa taught us to cook them. My Grandpa who has been gone for 28 years. We ate “Nana pizza” cooked exactly the right way by my sweet niece Angela, who copied her Nana exactly, although Nana has been gone for seven years now. And it occurred to me, as I hugged my cousins and ate my “boopie” and drank my wine, that my grandparents have achieved a kind of immortality through all of us and all of our children.
Life is a long and winding road, and none of us can ever predict the roadblocks or the washouts or the detours. Still, we go on, because we can’t turn around. Life is a winding, bumpy road, but we are committed to reaching its end. Life is a funny, surprising adventurous road, and sometimes I think we all wish we could pull into a rest area and just let the traffic go on by.
But we stay on the road, because we have no choice. We bump along, enjoying the scenery as much as we can. Eventually, we come to the parking lot, where our personal road comes to an end.
But our kids drive on, past where we have stopped. They carry our hearts, our smiles, our round eyes, our preference for salty over sweet. They drive right on, covering their own winding, bumpy roads, long after we have stopped driving.
And we live on, because our children and their children carry our spirits within them. We live on, because even after we shed these achy old bones, our hearts stay close to those we love.
This Christmas, I am thinking quite a lot about true immortality, and about the many ways that each of us will live on. We will all live on through those who have loved us. If we leave behind a loving and happy family, how much more secure is our immortality!
Dedicating this post to my funny, smart, loving, feisty, immortal Uncle Bob.