Message for a New Grandson
Friend Jan assures me that those in extremis can hear and understand. Son Micah told me once that when death is close, euphoric chemicals show up with kind words, beloved faces, and bright lights.
I’m all for our glands throwing us a going-away party, but what Jan says feels right. Besides, she is wise and knows about deathbeds.
But I have my own reasons for hoping that words of love and care somehow get through. During parishioner Annie’s last minutes, I leaned in close and whispered Psalm 23. Thou art with me. Goodness and mercy. Forever. A single tear ran down her crow’s foot to the pillow. I saw it.
And I saw my mother’s hand lift and fall as I said goodbye to her eighteen years ago. Mom’s purposeful movement said, “I’d answer if I could, John.”
Since then, I’ve spoken freely to the almost-gone. In fact, I’ll speak to everybody and nobody. Words are good, so I say what should be said in hopes that if nothing else, the universe might hear.
Years ago wife Kathy raised monarch butterflies on our front porch. Occasionally, one would be hopelessly deformed, and before resting it underneath a stargazer lily and giving it a quick end, I said, “I’m sorry this life didn’t work out, but it will be over soon. Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”
When geese fly over, in a pair or by the dozens, I say, “Thank you.” Am I addressing the birds or God? Both, I guess.
My most recent monologue came out on—appropriately enough—April Fools’ Day. Killian Davis Thompson, grandson number two, arrived at 2:01 p.m., and within a few hours I got to see him.
Kathy helped with the birth, so she had already held him. I let Micah go first. After Kathy had seconds, it was my turn.
Time passes dreamlike when you’re looking at a baby you’ve been imagining month after month. I heard giddy voices—daughter Elena, son-in-law Matt, Kathy and Micah—but, I swear, no words.
Killian and I were in a bubble. Even now, I remember only a couple of details, which I report without exaggeration: I disappeared into his face; before I knew what was happening, I found myself whispering to him; and, on one lucid front, I hoped my breath wasn’t nasty. (The little nugget was defenseless, after all.)
I can’t bring back exactly what I said, but what I meant is still fresh. As much as I wanted Mom to hear my goodbye, I longed for some quiet room in Killian’s soul to hold in safe keeping his foolish Pop’s welcome. I meant . . .
You were so safe and warm. Now here you are. It’s so cold and bright. Don’t wake up. You must be exhausted. Being born is hard, isn’t it?
But, listen, don’t be afraid. You’re so lucky! We’ve all been waiting for you, wanting to meet you, wanting to see your face.
Don’t be afraid. You have a whole bunch of people who will take care of you. Your mom and dad are beautiful. You have a nice little home. It’s warm and dry. And you have a big brother.
I named everybody in the family and told him about his tribe. Then Elena’s voice penetrated the bubble: “Are you talking to him?” “Yeah.”
This world is pretty good, but it might not be as great as where you came from. I don’t know. But I’m here, don’t forget. Whatever you need, I’m here. I’ll try to stay close.
Yes, I know, newborns don’t remember anything. And a dying woman doesn’t take green pastures and still waters with her into forever.
But maybe. I’m allowed to hope. All I know is, loving words are good, and if only the universe hears, I’ll keep trying to say them.