For most of my life I’ve gone to church on Ash Wednesday and been marked with a cross to the words from Genesis 3:19, “Remember, ‘you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’” Those words are a meditation, and each year I’ve reflected on my mortality and that of those I love after hearing them repeated.
|Ashes on forehead, February 13, 2013|
Last year Brandon had a PET scan scheduled two days after Ash Wednesday 2012, February 22. The results of that scan indicated the chemo was no longer working. A few weeks and tests came between the last chemo and a trial of a new medication being tested. By early to mid-May, we knew the new medication not only wasn’t working, Brandon had new “spots” in his brain, liver and lungs. More radiation was ordered to hit the spots in his head, and there was a different trial of another new medication he could enter but not until the spots in his brain had resolved with radiation. The disease overwhelmed his body, and he died June second.
Brandon’s funeral Mass of Christian Burial took place on my birthday. I followed the hearse to the crematorium after Mass; I’d told him several weeks earlier that no matter what I would be there to the end of his disease journey. Of course, I hoped the end would be a cure. Never did it occur to me that our time with Brandon was to be so limited. Still, the trip to the crematorium seemed an important part of keeping my promise to him. (A good friend and my mother accompanied me, since I was in no condition to drive.)
I had a last chance to say good-by to a body I’d given birth to – a body I so loved – a body “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). It was quite obvious his spirit no longer inhabited that beautiful shell, but I found I was still very attached to it and it was unbearable to give that body over. Only knowing the f’ng cancer was to be burnt out of him helped me let him go.
My real birthday gift – I’d given him his first kiss 38 years earlier just after his birth and now I got to be the one to give that wonderful, expressive, mischievous face its last kiss.
This year, two days before Ash Wednesday, I was given the privilege by my daughter-in-law Mia and son Joe to be present at the birth of their son Brandon, his uncle’s namesake. All 9 pounds, 1 ounce of someone also “wonderfully and fearfully made.” His journey and first kiss started in reassuring contact with his mother’s body until he’d had his first meal (or two).
|Brandon Joseph and his mama Mia within moments of birth, February 11, 2013|
My baby was returned to dust -- the f’ng, killing disease along with it – and all I have left of that special body is pewter heart containing some of his ashes.
|Pewter heart carrying "beautifully and fearfully made" dust|
But the life of a new little baby, who was no more than a microscopic speck at his uncle’s funeral, has just begun. How lucky I am to have two very special Brandons in my life.
This week my heart is so very full, yet it is breaking all at the same time. And Ash Wednesday and reflections on mortality have forever taken on new meaning.
Psalm 139: 13-14
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.