Waters of Life and Death


(Synopsis:  When G-Ma Lori's mother dies, and sadness settles in over her loss, Sarah and Matt comfort her.   They become Children of Vigilance, reminding G-Ma Lori that there is life after death, a beautiful life of memories and guardianship over them, that is expressed in their intuitive imaginations that keep their great grandmother, GaGa, alive as a Sentinel of Vigilance, always there with them in spirit.)



GMa Lori

       The chain links of the Union Square playground swing screech.  The sound reminds me of a peregrine falcon on prowling patrol amid the towering brick apartment buildings of New York City.  The shrill cry of metal against metal screeches through the early morning stillness of the crisp autumn Big Apple day.  

       “Look, G-Ma! We’re the first peoples in the playground.   Let’s run, G-Ma.  ‘Cmon.”  
        Sarah, my four-year-old granddaughter bolts out of the brightly colored $11 umbrella stroller my six-foot-four-inch husband purchased from Toys ‘R Us a month ago.  He added two-feet of makeshift extender-handles, securing them to the stroller with bright blue duct tape.  The handles were fashioned out of a ball of bubble wrap, wrapped in glistening blue tape.  His goal: to push Sarah easily throughout the city without bending over.  He made a hit in the city.  All the tall people stopped him and said:  “Where did you get that!  What a great idea.”  Sarah liked it best of all.
         I watched Sarah’s muscular legs propel her swiftly through the gate to the park, across the sand and deposit her happily into the swing’s black rubber sling.   She made me think of Superwoman dashing across the Gobi desert-- a whirling cloud of dust savaging the desolate desert dunes of the children’s playground toward the swing’s waiting oasis.

Sarah swirling on swing

         We only had a short time to enjoy the park each morning.  Earlier, we dropped off her six-year-old brother, Matt, at his school en route to Sarah’s Montessori pre-school.  We had about thirty plus minutes of fun time to kill, endearing moments together before school when we shared the freshness of the morning as 'partners, buddies and pals'.  Swinging was one of  ‘our special times’—a girl-to-girl, woman-to-woman, friend-to-friend time.
        “Swinging in the swing, swinging up so high, I can almost touch my head up against the sky…”
         Sarah trilled the words and tossed her head back as she furiously pumped higher and higher.   Her long summer-sun-streaked dark blonde hair streamed behind her like a ribboned cape, the long strands suspending behind her at the peak of her swing and then cascading around her face and shoulders as she floated down, then up, then down, then up.  I admired the freedom of her small soul flying through the air, defying gravity, driven by the passion of her innocence, her hair glistening like eagle’s wings splattered by the rays of the morning sun, igniting the golden hue trapped in each strand.

       “GaGa taught you that song, G-Ma…and you taught it to ME.  I love the ‘swing song’, don’t you, G-Ma?.” 

       She paused for a big pump that drove her up high, and then added with childish delight ringing her Voice: “I’m leaving a tiny spot on the swing for GaGa to swing with me instead of my guardian angel.”  Sarah’s energetic pumping slowed as her proclamation filled the quiet morning air.   A tiny frown swept over her sweet face then disappeared as she fluidly synchronized her arms and legs and accelerated up and back, straining to reach the highest possible arc.
       “Yes, my little princess.  GaGa was a very good singer, like your Daddy Joe.  She loved to sing and play the piano.  She taught me a lot of good songs to pass on to you. She loved to swing on swings and will love to swing with you.”  I paused and added, “…all your life.

        “Mommy knows the song about the ‘spreading elm tree’ and now she sings it to baby Angus.”  Sarah, began to hum the song her great grandmother had passed down. Her long legs stretched firmly as she pumped, splotched here and there with bruises earned during daring activities at dogged and fearless ‘park play,’ battle scars from several unfortunate falls.  She swung so high I was afraid she would go over the bar, but that was Sarah—always pushing the envelope, seeking the extreme thrills of life, just like her great grandmother.

  “G-Ma… watch……..watch…..see what I can do. G-Pa ‘splained to me how to go up r-r-r-r-ight next to the top bar and then to stand up and swing.”  Sarah grabbed hold of the chains above her and pulled her legs up so her feet were solidly in the rubber sling.   She stood on the rubber seat as the swing rose up and down, smiling triumphantly.
         “Oh, Sarah, please be careful.  That is too scary for G-Ma to watch.  Please be careful my sweet Amazon.  You might fall out of the swing.”  
         Sarah is blessed with the agility and athletic prowess of her Auntie E, my younger daughter, a former national volleyball champion.   Sarah has this innate thirst to excel athletically, as though the genes of an Olympiad were passed on to her, driving her to be fearless.   But my G-Ma “Vigilant” genes engaged, and since this was
my first time witnessing her ‘stand-up-swing action,’ I wasn’t as encouraging to her as my husband.  I was about to tell her to stop when her next comment checked my Voice, stunned me.
        “I won’t fall out of the swing and be dead like GaGa.  Why, even if I did, GaGa might even catch me because I left a teeny tiny space for her on my swing.  Don’t worry, G-Ma.  Don’t worry.”  She flashed her mischievous, brilliant chocolate eyes at me accompanied by her wide apple-face grin where she scrunches her face to look as though she had just taken a bite out of a very sour apple..
         I sucked in a deep breath.   I wasn’t yet over the shocking realization that my mother had died, even though I had been happy she passed away quickly, at age 88, in a chair.  My mother had a bad heart along with other painful health problems.  She dreaded the thought of a prolonged suffering.  It was a blessing she had passed so quickly, without any more additional pain, without suffering.

        Sarah let the swing slow.  The glistening brightness in her eyes shifted to curiosity as she asked:  “Why did GaGa die, G-Ma?   Didn’t God like her anymore?”  The tiny frown reappeared.  It worked its way across her brow.   She reached out to grab my raised arms, extended to help slow her down.  I waited for a brief moment until the swing had come to a near stop before I answered, wanting to make sure what I said was something she could comprehend, and, that it came from the happiness in my heart, not the sadness of loss.

       “Dear one, God loved her and still loves her.   Why, God was especially kind in allowing GaGa to die so she wouldn’t have to suffer a painful and long death.  She was almost 89 years old and her ailments…that is…her sicknesses…were starting to get much, much worse.  She lived with Great Grandpa in her own apartment and was able to move about and go places.  She still had her smile and her wits.  She…”

        “I know about wits…it’s being funny.  Daddy Joe says Matt has wits. Right, G-Ma?”
        “Kind of little one.  Having one’s wits in GaGa’s case means her smarts – as well as her humor.  You have good listening ears, Sarah. God has the best ears and heard GaGa’s worries and concerns of not being healthy and starting to be afraid of having to be in bed all the time, taking lots of medicine and worrying about going to a hospital or a special home for very very sick old people.  God knew Gaga hated that thought.  So, She arranged it so GaGa would just go to sleep and not wake up. We all should feel happy, not sad, even though we will miss her so.”
       “Sue’s daddy died, too, G-Ma.  Baby Angus went to that funeral and your mommy’s funeral.  He’s been to
two funerals already.  Remember, G-Ma, Sue is Auntie E’s friend at work.  Mommy said Sue was sad too.  But Angus made her smile. Bet Angus made you smile at GaGa's funeral."
         Still sitting on the swing, Sarah reached out.  Her hands clasped mine.  She drew me close, her “mothering instincts” engaging.


        “Little one, what if G-Ma or Sue’s Daddy could possibly come back to return to earth as another kind of being?  Some people believe that’s possible.  It’s called re-gen-er–a-tion.  In Africa the Kipsigis believe the spirits of the dead will be called back to life in the bodies of another generation – people born later.  Also, some of the religions and beliefs in Asia think that too.  You know a song about the continents, don’t you?  That’s where lots of those beliefs come from—other parts of this big world.”
    “Wow, G-Ma, maybe Gaga will come back to be a swing and I can sit in her lap.”   Then she slipped quickly into her recital of the continents in song.  “ North America, South America, Africa, don’t forget Asia…” she sang out a few lines from the ‘continents’ piece she learned at her Montessori school.  “Here are the con-tin-ents, here are the con-tin-ents…”
         I marveled at how quickly the young mind works, asking deep questions one minute, then expanding them into “playful reality” the next, then depositing them to move on with the next answer or question.  I thought of the mind being a sponge, soaking up everything, nothing escaping its porosity—especially Sarah’s.
         Insisting on “no help” getting out of the swing, Sarah’s melodic singing ceased as she scrambled out.   She is an “I-do-it-myself,” girl, gifts both her mother and aunt learned at an early age.  We raced to the sand park swing gate, a ritual we performed every morning.  It was time to walk the one street and three avenues to her school.  She plopped in her one-of-a-kind duct tape stroller.  I helped her get the sand out of her sandals.

       “I’m glad God liked GaGa so she didn’t hurt.”
        Again, I was captivated by my grandchild’s mind—it’s innocence, its ability to say the right thing at the right time.   My heart still ached for my mother, but Sarah had brought her back to life, in the swing, and made her a Sentinel of Vigilance, protecting her.   I liked the feeling that my grandchild preserved my mother’s memory in life as a guardian, a watchful eye.
        Sarah hummed the rest of the way to school.  As I pushed the stroller, I thought of the story G-Pa related to me about what Sarah said as they picked up Matt at school when we were in Montana for my mother’s funeral. 

           A statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, graced the hallway inside the courtyard of Matt’s school.  They paused in front of Mary’s statue and G-Pa asked Sarah to say a prayer to Mary for GaGa.
         “G-Pa, does GaGa have to get up on the cross like Jesus?  Jesus got on the cross to be saved to heaven.”  G-Pa replied “No, Sarah, angels carried GaGa up to heaven.  GaGa didn’t have to get on the cross to be saved like Jesus did.” He added he was relieved she was appeased - at least for the moment.

        My husband, Sarah’s mother and father, and I were all impressed with Sarah’s logic - startling proof that kids see and hear almost everything and do put two and two together.  I hadn’t had a chance to talk that much to Matt, two years her senior, nor had he asked me much about my mother’s death.  Sarah, it seemed, had adopted my mother’s memory as one of her guardians, one of her Sentinels of Vigilance.
        Later in the day, Sarah and I picked up Matt at his school. Matt grabbed onto the stroller waiting for Sarah to exit it so he could pounce in and enjoy a ride if Sarah left it vacant.   But Sarah clung tightly.  Occasionally he rode but more often  walked beside me holding onto one of the reinforced bright blue handles.
         Matt usually gives us no slack on the way home with continual action stories he makes up about the Rescue Heroes.  He threw me for a loop when he spoke of my mother.
       “G-Ma, I think GaGa is like a beautiful leaf on a tree that falls to the ground.  We’re learning about the seasons of the year and now it’s autumn.  That’s the same as Fall.  So, G-Ma, the leaves
fall off the trees because they live their life, change from green to red, orange or yellow, and their stem can’t hold them onto the tree and they fall off or the wind blows them off the tree. GaGa was blown off the tree of life by God’s breath because it was time for her to die. Get it, G-Ma?”
        I was enthralled by the beautiful picture he painted for Sarah and me. “That’s beautiful, Matt. A beautiful story about a beautiful woman.”

      “Yes, G-Ma,” interjected Sarah. “GaGa had on her bright red lipstick and pretty colored clothes she liked to wear just like a bright leaf.  She was sooooooo old and ready to fall off the tree.”
        Matt gave me the ‘ohhhhhh-G-Ma-what-did-Sarah-just-say’ look and shook his head. “Sarahhhhh  -   UGGGHHHHH you always say something about girl stuff.”   He rolled his bright blue eyes and grinned at his little sister’s attempt to contribute to his leaf analogy.
       “G-Ma, let's tell Matt about GaGa ‘generating.  How she can be my swing, or …a sea shell, G-Ma you told me once about how she loved the seas.”  Sarah didn’t dare to jump out of her precious stroller in case Matt tried a ‘take over’.  Squatters Rights ruled when it came to riding in the stroller.  I was relieved she didn’t since I did not relish refereeing the battle when one took over the other’s seat.
       “GaGa can’t be a
swing, or a sea shell, she’s dust n’ dust, Sarah!  I learned that from my kindergarten teacher.”  Matt gently admonished Sarah.  He puffed his think chest as his big brother character attempted to over-shine his sister with his I know-it-all attitude.
        I quickly jumped into the conversation while the two little ones were discussing my mother.  
         “ Matt, I told Sarah a few of the different after-death beliefs other people have. Regeneration is one of them.  GaGa might ‘come back’ or ‘return’ as another being or even an object – like a swing or a shell.  I think it’s a wonderful and exciting thought.  But, whatever one believes, the important thing for you and Sarah to remember is that GaGa is not dead to us and her spirit lives – why, I believe even though we don’t have her here with us we still have her love.”

        The tender moment indeed passed as Matt switched from dear caring big brother to dear daring game-playing brother.  “ G-Ma, I want to tell a story about a tidal wave with Rocky Canyon and his Helicopter.   Rocky radios to Mike Medic to come to the site.  Rocky Canyon here…come in Mike Medic…do you copy”?
       Back to his usual storytelling, he skipped along beside me, one hand clasping mine and the other close to his mouth aping a walkie-talkie broadcast.
       Sarah was instantaneously silent.  She either was forced to listen due to Matt’s obsessive storytelling of the adventures of Rescue Heroes, or she enjoyed them.  I believed it to be a combination.
        “Matt, what are Wendy Waters and Ariel doing.  Are they there?  Is Ariel’s hawk Ariel Flyer helping?” 
         I made it a point to insure Matt’s stories weren’t solely testosterone-based.   Sarah kept her eyes to the front, her body motionless in the garish stroller, anticipating the girl Rescue Heroes roles would roll out of Matt’s mouth as he histrionically broadcast his stories to the entire neighborhood, acting out as much as he could as he walked and skipped.  Once he started, the Rescue Hero stories lasted all the way home.
        I offered an interruption to his story telling.   “Hey, little ones, remember the stories I told you about how strong and tough your beautiful GaGa was when I was a little girl?  Matt what would you think of GaGa as a Rescue Hero?”  I tried to change the subject to quiet him down and keep him from running into people on the sidewalk as he pretended to be Jake Justice or Rip Rockefeller.

Rip Rockefeller

        “Maybe Sarah can tell a GaGa Rescue Hero story.”  I looked down at my now quiet Amazon who seemed spent from her activity at the park and day at school as well as listening to her brother’s wild action stories.
        With no hesitation, probably thinking Matt would butt in if she didn’t make use of this opportunity, Sarah began: “Well, once upon a time there was a girl and her name was GaGa, not GaGa, I mean, G-Ma what is GaGa’s other first name?”
         Sarah’s tiredness had lifted and her now-alert chocolate eyes searched my smiling blue ones.
       “Charlotte, little one.  Her name is Charlotte.”  My throat tightened as I repeated her name.
       “G-Ma, don’t look so sad.  You said you were not sad God blew her off the tree and that she was still with us – well, kind of with us.” Sarah looked up at me demonstrating the infinite wisdom of a child with greater knowledge than an adult.  She often said to me “G-Ma, I  know more than you do but not as much as God but the same as God”.  She was ‘right on’ in the here and now.
      Sarah’s memory is precious.  She hammered out her Rescue Hero from a tidbit of information I had given her months ago when she wanted to know about my childhood.
          “I think of GaGa as a Rescue Hero,” Sarah began,  “when she rode her bike right onto the kids’ merry-go-round at the school to stop those bad boys from beating up your brother.  She rescued him and is a hero, G-Ma.” 
           Matt, also blessed with extraordinary thoughtfulness, noticed my sad demeanor and retold one of my favorite ‘don’t mess with my mom’ stories.  When he was finished, I smiled and said:   “Oh you two, you are Rescue Heroes, too.  You rescued your G-Ma.  You are my little Rescue Heroes.  Thank you.”

          We arrived at the door in front of their apartment and I bent down over the stroller and hugged them both close to me. 
        “Do you remember how GaGa got her nickname?” I asked.
        “Tell us again, G-Ma.” Matt’s chest was puffed.  He looked taller sporting what I call his ‘important head’ no doubt pleased to be classified as a Rescue Hero.
        “Yes, G-Ma.  I ‘member it was G-Pa who caused it.”  Sarah drew my hand to her chest.
        “Oh, yes, that G-Pa.  He and GaGa were friends but sometimes like strong bulls they butted heads,” I said.
           I knew Matt would enjoy the description.  Matt was a renowned ‘head -butter’ from his baby days and his bullish activity is worrisome around baby Angus.   “No head butting” is a rule in the house.

Gorilla + Grandma = GaGa

      “Well, your mommy,” I continued, “…G-Ma and G-Pa and GaGa were at the San Diego Zoo.  G-Pa and your mommy were taking a long time looking at a huge bronze statue of the head of a female gorilla.  Finally, your mommy walked over to where GaGa and I were waiting and looked right at GaGa and said: “Hi, GaGa.  Daddy said your name is GaGa .””
       After doing some detective work, I found out G-Pa told your mommy that the gorilla statue was ‘grandma’.  Since your mommy couldn’t say gorilla, she combined the two names, gorilla and grandma and came up with GaGa.  GaGa actually was flattered G-Pa would go to such great lengths to come up with such an elaborate nickname.”
        Sarah and Matt squeezed my hands and laughed.  No doubt thinking of the rascal their G-Pa is – both then and now.  We entered the apartment and were met by my smiling older daughter.  She was cuddling Angus my three and a half month old grandson.  She heard me telling the GaGa/Gorilla story and touched an ear mouthing out the words.  She enjoyed telling the tale (or hearing it) as much as I.
          As I took Angus from her capable arms to give him a semi-Sarah-Squeeze (that ever-so-special-squeezy-kind-of-hug that only Sarah can truly impart), I was struck with the sweetness of the moment and the realization that Angus’ baptism a week before my mother’s funeral was a reminder that life goes on even in death.

       It is the Catholic Churches’ belief that “in the waters of baptism, you died with Christ and rose with him to new life.”  The holy water sprinkled on my mother’s casket was a “washing of regeneration” and in Baptism, Angus was raised to the glory of new life promised in the waters of baptism.   An innocent, vibrant new baby boy wriggles his chubby toes in the waters of life, christened soul and body intact, while the nearly 89 year old worn body of a vibrant soul was put to rest into the earth, showered by sprinklings of holy waters by her eight grandchildren and three children and her husband--all to reassure us her soul lives on.  
       Death of loved ones doesn’t have to be terror-filled. 
       For many, it is.

       The reality of a soul’s departure from this world is sad.  The sadness is the loss of the friendship, the community of the other person’s being.   But sadness can be replaced with acceptance—accepting, in my case, and understanding the departure from the world of an elderly, soon to be incapacitated, woman who had lived a very full and rich life.  I knew it was my job to applaud the event  and meet it with a smile, not tears of remorse.   My two vigilant grandkids provided me with an invaluable boost that beat up the bad guy of Terrorism trying to drag me into the quagmire of sadness, loneliness, emptiness.
       “G-Ma, will GaGa be a Rescue Hero when she is reborn?”  Sarah zoomed about the room filling up the tiny space with her long legs, flying hair, and extended arms.  “I’m GaGa and I will protect all the kids from the bullies.  Mommy, see me fly and be brave.”
         Watching the children bring life to death, I knew my mother wasn’t dead.  She lived in the spirits of the children, in their imaginations, in their thirst to grow and explore the world.

         I hope the children of those who perished in Nine Eleven believe the spirits of their ‘dead’ live on, and love them and are watching over them.  I know my mother remains my mother and watches over me.  She remains a grandma and a great grandma to watch over her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  She is eternally Vigilant.
         And if I doubt that belief, I only have to see her living in the minds of my grandchildren, sitting on the swing with Sarah, playing Rescue Heroes with Matt or rocking baby Angus.
          I sat for a short while attune to the bedlam of Matt and Sarah relaying to their mommy the events of the day.  I knew my strong and beautiful mother, with the huge sense of humor and great faith in life, was enjoying the moment as well.
        “Mom, before you go….” My daughter didn’t finish speaking.   Instead, she hugged me hard letting me know her heart was there for me and that she missed GaGa too.   She had told me earlier in the day her own strong faith was an extension of my mother’s.  She thanked me for being the link, taking the Right Actions to pass down GaGa’s wisdom.

My strong and beautiful mother

          Summer is over.  So many important events transpired – Matt and Sarah’s mother’s graduation from New York Union Theological with her Master’s of Divinity and Honors, the blessed birth and baptism of Angus, their healthy new brother, and the death and funeral/baptism of my dear mother. 

Waterfall of Life




The Courage, Convictions and Right Actions of my sweet ‘Rescue Heroes’ helped to drive Terrorism’s Fear, Intimidation and Complacency out of my mind as I began to feel the sadness and loneliness of my mother’s death. 
          The children’s Vigilance dried my tears of sorrow and eased the Terror of my mother’s unexpected but merciful death.
          Instead of tears of sorrow, I knew any tears I shed would be tears of happiness, falling to the ground to provide moisture for new life, new leaves that would grow rich and green in the spring as Matt had related, and shade the swing so that Sarah and GaGa could swing together in cool comfort, the Child of Vigilance and the Great Grandmother of Vigilance, one in spirit, as I was with them all, Child, Mother, Grandmother of Vigilance.
         Mother, I love you.  And so do your grandchildren and great grandchildren.   

                         Go To Sophia 21 - "The True Meaning of Christmas"

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