"We are born alone and die alone." I don't know who first said this, it's a common enough sentiment, but I remember how much it struck me when I first read it as a teenager. It seemed to confirm a certain teenage melancholy and to fit nicely with my avid reading of the time on spirituality and detachment.
But it's not true. I was there when my children were born. (For days later I carried the marks of Anne's nails digging into my hand as she gripped it during the pain of the contractions). When our first child was born something magical happened which I had not been prepared for. When babies emerge, after the head is out, they twist round so that the shoulders come out more easily. When Ben did this I was standing beside Anne's bed and his puckered red face turned directly towards me. I was the first person ever to see it. A relationship began at that point, even before he had fully emerged.
On All Saints Day last, at four in the morning, a wheel had turned and I was again beside Anne's bed, kneeling this time, and again, Ben was there, and his sister Amy, both now in their thirties. And as Anne gently left this life we all held her and I talked to her, quietly telling her that it was alright to leave us now, helping her on her last journey. We accompanied her as far as it is possible to accompany another person.
And what now? What is our connection with Anne now? I don't know, of course, but there is a story from the Gospels which I have re-read and which forms a fruitful subject for lectio divina. When Jesus appeared to his followers after the resurrection he did not have a flawless, transfigured body. He still had his wounds. Wounds that never disappear, even in a new, resurrected state of life, appeal to me. Surely this is the task of mourning; to learn how to live with the wounds and maybe live better for the wounds and all that they teach about life and love. It is not just the loss of Anne that has marked us all for life but the indelible marks she made upon our minds and hearts while she was with us. We can never see the world or love others but with our marked and wounded selves formed by loving and losing her. She died on All Saints day and, for me, this thought is how I begin to understand the Communion of Saints. It seems to me that we are not essentially alone as I had thought as a dour teenager. We are essentially connected and in communion with the living and the dead.
- Place: UK
- Date: January 2016