Today is the ninth anniversary of our daughter Cecelia's death. Despite the fact that time mitigates pain it's only natural to feel reflective with the mark of another year. Digging into the past is generally never a fun activity though. It's inevitably laden with difficult moments we'd rather forget, but among the hardships we unearth are the joys and lessons as well. As I approach a decade of this it isn't the first time I've lamented the situation, so the journey hardly brings with anything new. Instead I'm reminded of realizations I never wanted to forget in the first place. Most specifically the reality of Cecelia's life and what it taught me about how to live.
Many of these realizations came during her stay at home in hospice. Those two weeks gave me time to process a lot as Hannah and I could do little more than make Cecelia comfortable as we waited. During this respite from the daily grind I had a lot of opportunity to sit, listen, talk, think, and observe what her life meant to others (as visitors came and went) as well as to my wife and me. Of course I would have rather avoided this break all together by virtue of there being no need for it, but given that there is no way around mortality I decided to face it and let the reality, that it was happening, completely sink in for once. The end was clearly approaching and there was nothing I could do about it besides stand by.
Moments after Cecelia passed Hannah and I sat there with our oldest daughter and held Cecelia's body in dull shock and skeptical belief. Her eyes were half closed and her mouth was tilted slightly open. I could smell death and see that it was present by her coloring. I wasn't offended by it showing itself though. It was just strange, surreal, and still. The stillness is probably the most alarming part of the process. You sit in silence with anticipation of another breath, but it never comes. The reality starts seeping in, but that can't be felt for months or possibly longer.
The greatest thing Cecelia's life gave me was a more acute perspective about the nature of life and what it means to live. As much as we try to impart black and white absolutes in our day to day, the fact remains that we deal mostly in gray. It wasn't until faced with the contrast and conundrum of the permanence of death that it became glaringly clear to me how much, or really how little, we apply ourselves. Despite being only a couple weeks from her second birthday, Cecelia managed to leverage her entire person towards existence. I've personally never seen anyone do that before or since. I'm trying, but I'll admit it's frightening. When I'm honest I can see that I'm applying myself to varying degrees, but never in sum.
From what I saw, the only thing that seems to overshadow the certitude of death is the totality of ones life. No matter how old we are when we die our lives are a little more than a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. I just hope I can say I participated in it like my daughter Cecelia did- with everything I had.