Birth and Death By Sharon

Birth and Death — A Christmas Story

(This Fresh Views was first published 8 years ago. The baby described is now 8-year-old Fianna, a magical child.)

“We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.”
Madame de Stael

“Every child begins the world again.”
Henry David Thoreau


On the same day in late December I experienced the death of a friend I truly loved and the birth of a baby whom I plan to love for the rest of my life. Though the feelings around the death and the birth are totally different, there is something about the intensity of each that is similar. Both birth and death pull me to the center of life itself.

Cece lived fully and well. The months preceding her death included times of resignation and then the rebirth of hope. She wanted to make it to Christmas and she wanted it to be “magnificent and joyful.” Through ups and downs she was sustained by a loving family, a huge spirit, and a quick sense of humor. When doctors could do no more, she was sent home from the hospital and eagerly reunited with her cat, Beaumont. She continued to be in touch with friends, send Christmas cards and the day before her death she watched the Steelers play on a big screen television at the foot of her bed, her little grandsons beside her. The next day she was less responsive, and toward the end, her daughter Nell began to sing Silent Night. Daughter Rose joined in with harmony, just as her mother had taught her so long ago. Cece’s brother and niece joined in. At the end of the third verse, as if she were waiting for that beautiful song to end, Cece breathed her last breath.

The baby born the same day Cece died is Fianna, the spectacular baby adopted by my son Gordon and his wife Kathleen. We were able to be there for the birth. It was an amazingly wonderful, complex situation, as you can guess, where love and good wishes for a child trumped every other thing in the world. I will be inspired by the experience for years to come. Here’s what I wrote about it the morning we got home:

This may have been the most extraordinary experience of my life. It approaches mythic proportions, including a dream as big as life itself, an arduous journey of many parts, emotions as deep and wide as an ocean, uncertainties that threaten to choke off breathing. It is a story of many, many people helping things go right. It includes systems within systems, working together flawlessly: A loving couple eager to become parents, a calm young pregnant woman and her engaging boyfriend, their two children, the boyfriend’s supportive mother, sisters and grandmothers, a women’s hospital awarded the best place to work in a large geographic area. It is a story of the birth of a baby, a spectacular baby girl with lots of spun gold hair, Fianna, whom one nurse dubbed The Christmas Angel. The story includes a skilled and humane lawyer who drove several hours in a neck brace to take the important legal steps required in an adoption, and the bureaucracy of two states that miraculously did in two days what can take two weeks so that this new baby and her family could be home for Christmas. This was the coming together of three extended families who found out what happens when people treat each other gently, respectfully, as people. The heart keeps expanding and the ripples go to the ends of the earth. It may seem that I make too much of this, but it feels like this is the story of the redemption of mankind. It is a riveting love story. For love of a newborn baby, people got outside themselves and demonstrated that love has the power to do the impossible.

Birth and death are so primal, so tied to each other. Gandhi even said “Birth and death are not two different states, but are different aspects of the same state.” Being so close to either one pulls us to reflect on the big questions: What does it mean to be alive? What is this miracle that is life? How do I accept the reality that is death? And out of those questions comes the question of all questions, “How will I live?”


For the beginning of this new year, why not ponder that question deeply, “How will I live?”
Consider answering not with a bunch of to-dos, but with a to-be list. Let some inklings or little voices that have been nudging you inside come to the fore. Prioritize what you really want to be.


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