Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Numbness and Baton Passing

I am frequently numb after a busy period of intense meetings and volunteer service on various committees and boards.

But this week I am numb from the intensity of the hard news our family has received. Our favorite niece is in the end stage of breast cancer, a recurrence from a double mastectomy more than five years ago. Typically the five year mark is magical, almost a guarantee against cancer. Debbie wasn't so lucky.

We also learned that her only sibling, a younger brother, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Their father, Herb's eldest brother, died a mere twelve months ago. Tough news to handle, especially for our sister-in-law, the wife and mother.

We've been teary-eyed for days, which are not yet at an end.

What makes this time different is that our daughter and her spouse are taking this walk with us. They're 25, adults and full participants in our family's lives. They are no longer merely our children, youngsters we look after and protect, protect not only from the world but also from the tough family times.

It matters that we are in a sense passing the baton on to the next generation, sharing not only the good times and material wealth of the family, but also sharing the responsibility for being family.

When we thought that Herb was dying late last year, before his kidney transplant, he and I talked about how we had finally launched our daughter, and that comforted us. Knowing that our children will stand on their own with some assurance of self-sufficiency is, indeed, comforting to parents. It's what we work towards from the day we bring our babies home from the hospital.

Another passage was the one I wrote about in Matriarchs and Elders, posted on May 9, 2009, the story of when I transitioned from daughter and niece to matriarch and elder. Little did I know then that it would be so soon that I would share responsibility so fully with my daughter. In retrospect, it makes sense: when one passage occurs, the others that follow will logically fall into place. It's always only a matter of time.

I know now that I must begin to reflect on how to identify the things that should be turned over to my daughter and how to encourage those turnovers gracefully. When the girls were married in July, I began the turnover by gifting them with some jewelry that previously belonged to my father and maternal grandmother. I made those gifts with an open heart, but also with a heart that wanted to hold back, just a little bit.

This passage of time and identity also means a movement towards an end date, something that we all resist with every fiber of our beings. As Herb says, he'd like to be around to know how the rest of the story unfolds.

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