When a clan gathers, it is beautiful. Even when the reason for the gathering demands solemnity and sadness, it remains beautiful, perhaps only then becoming perfect.
This past week I have observed a clan gathering around its matriarch. She is dying, finally succumbing to the cancer she has defied already much longer than the doctors supposed. It seems the fight left first; her strength followed. The downward slide began when she woke one night in pain. Within a week’s span she went from daily walks in the woods to barely finding the strength to eat.
But what has happened during that week moves me. Already a tight-knit extended family, it has pulled together like emperor penguins huddling together to flout the devastating cold. But here it is not the cold they are attempting to keep out. It’s not even death, although to ponder – if we surround her with enough love, could we have just a bit more time – is normal. No, it’s not even that.
They have flown and come by car. They coordinate their comings and goings, day and night, to be sure someone is always there. Not necessarily next to her bed or sitting holding her hand, but in the house baking, cooking, and chatting – just being. Within days those awkward necessities were organized: toilet commode, shower stool, a better recliner. Favorite meals are made one last time. They call to encourage one last reunion or to offer one last peace.
The clan has gathered around their matriarch and has taken up where she once led. With the years her steps have slowed, but never has she stopped offering up her dining table as a meeting place, open to any religion and all ideas. Over a cup of coffee she stood her ground, but always in love. Her hospitality has been my beacon in the fog of “perfect” German housewife expectations. From her I remember it does not matter if my house is perfectly clean or the presentation of food is impeccable. The food should be tasty, but most important is the warmth with which it is offered and the genuine interest that accompanies it.
Her table remains open; her family has seen to that. And even if her community is not physically present there, we too have gathered around her in our thoughts and with our prayers. For when she feels that final nudge from her Maker, telling her it is time to come home, she will be able to go, knowing her clan and community into which she has invested so much passion, good cooking and love, is ready to carry on.
This is love and it is community. Her clan has come to gather around her and lift her up in order to let her go.