The Circle of Life

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"Are you sure you're going to be OK?" I asked my husband for what was probably the fifteenth time in a 24 hour period. "Maybe I should just stay home."

"You're going," my husband responded, kindly but firmly. "You need to do this."

He was right, of course, but I was still anxious. I hadn't yet been away from my 3 month old son for more than a few hours and here I was leaving for two nights. My son had been extra clingy that day, as if he knew. 

"There should be plenty of breastmilk in the freezer, but if you run out there's formula in the pantry. And there's a clean sleep sack in the dryer. Oh, and at bedtime - "

"Babe." My husband interrupted me gently. "We've got this." 

"Right. Ok," I said tearfully, kissing my son one last time before heading out the door. I knew my little family would be fine without me for 48 hours, but it was still hard to leave.

Once I was in the car, though, my mood lightened. Soon, we arrived at the airport and I received a text from my husband saying our son was sleeping soundly. I breathed a sigh of relief and put my phone away. I ordered a beer from the airport bar.  

My mom, sister, brother and I raised our glasses in a toast. "To Opa!" we said in unison. 

****

The air in the hospital was dry. I rubbed my eyes - partly because my contacts stung, partly because I was fighting back tears. My paternal grandfather, "Opa," lay in the hospital bed before us, gaunt and only partially coherent. We were here to say goodbye. 

He was 87. Just a few months ago, when I was nine months pregnant, he'd visited us. On that visit, he stood in my backyard, his cane in one hand, a tennis ball in the other. He leaned on his cane for support as he threw the ball over and over for my eager golden retriever. Sure, he was aging, but at that time there was still life in his eyes.

But now, only 3 months later, his heart was failing. He'd never meet my son, which made my heart ache. Despite that, he'd had a good life. He was always the first one to tell you that. "Everyone's got to go sometime," he'd say, matter-of-factly. "It's the circle of life." I repeated those words over and over to myself as we sat with him that day. It was a small comfort but, still, it's never easy to lose a loved one. 

Several times that day, I had to leave Opa's bedside to pump breastmilk, which I'd bring home for my son. As I sat in in the hospital lobby, the irony that I was here to say goodbye to my grandfather while I pumped the milk that would sustain my baby was clear. As Opa would say, it's the circle of life. 

Leaving my dying grandfather in that hospital, knowing I'd never see him alive again, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Still, as I boarded the plane home I was anxious and excited. I'd only been gone for two days, but it might as well have been two years the way I hugged my son when I got home. I quickly noticed that he'd gained a new skill in the short time I'd been away; he now noticed sounds and turned his head to see where the noise was coming from. I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that my Opa was dying as my son was growing, thriving. It's the circle of life, I thought to myself. 

****

Yesterday was Opa's birthday. He would have been 88. I told my son about Opa as I fed him breakfast. He's eating solids now, another bittersweet reminder of the passage of time. 

Opa and my son will never meet on earth, but watching him grow from a newborn into a joyful, inquisitive baby in the same year we said goodbye to his great-grandfather reminds me that we're all part of something bigger. It's not easy to lose a loved one, but as I look at my son smiling up at me I'm reminded again of the circle of life. Opa's legacy, the lessons he taught me and our family, live on. 

 

Brittany Van Den Brink is a PhD Candidate and freelance writer living in small-town Ontario with her husband, baby son, and their Golden Retriever, Chevy. She founded Motherhood Her Way to collaborate with other moms as they go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Say hi on Instagram @brittanyvandenbrink.