Light In Limbo

My uncle is in the hospital in Baltimore, hovering between life and death.

A few weeks ago he developed a series of infections and had to be hospitalized. Since then there have been serious complications. My father has been with him all week, at his bedside, along with my uncle’s wife and my two cousins.

I feel so far from home, from things that matter.

This morning, looking out the train window on our way to Milan, I watch the blur of brown and green on the hills between Switzerland and Italy. Spring has arrived and we have warmer weather, but there are many stubborn trees that would rather cling to the past than move into the next season.

And I think of my uncle as he inhabits a similarly undefined territory – not able to breathe on his own, to talk. And I imagine he must feel helpless. Is he ready to die? Or does he want to stay here to witness another spring?

I wonder if maybe his brain has finally surrendered to a quiet place of patiently waiting.

It seems to me that, in smaller ways, we all know this feeling of transience. The in-between times when we are neither coming or going. Caught in the middle of an unnamed place.

I write a lot about transitions, because I believe that from the moment we are born we are moving from one reality to another. Growth and development, both physical and spiritual, happen in the cracks, in the seams, where we can really feel the chafing.

And I believe that while transitions can be scary and painful, they are absolutely where the real stuff happens.

Recently I’ve been complaining about being in limbo, not knowing when we’re going back home.  My husband’s tired of me asking him every night what our plans are. I’m tired of hearing myself ask. It’s because I’m feeling neither here nor there.

In my mind I can reason with myself, but my emotional parts feel laid out bare, like items on the grass at a yard sale. Strewn and scattered with no real organizational clarity.

But I know that it’s in these uncomfortable places that I learn the most. Where I decide how exactly I’m going to ride that next wave coming towards me. Where I figure out how to find the stillness in the strong current.

Because I know that none of it is really up to me anyway. My job is to observe, be present, be faithful. And sometimes just to wait.

In childbirth, transition is the word used to describe the dilation of a woman’s cervix from about 8 to10 centimeters. The final stage of delivery, right before pushing. And it’s usually the most painful, but most productive part of labor. Fortunately, it’s also the quickest.

In the births that I witnessed as a doula, transition felt hyper-focused, charged yet ethereal. The room always had a heightened energy, a tangible intensity. There was a condensed, pressurized atmosphere. And in all of the chaos of pain and struggle, there was this shared intention that never failed to move the birth along.

Through the years, I’ve thought a lot about those deliveries, and the mystical moments before a baby is born. And since my mom died, I’ve thought about death in a similar way.

I wasn’t present at her actual death, but I was with my mother-in-law when she died many years ago. And I remember how the clock in her hospital room seemed to freeze. How the family entered into a different kind of time. A time set apart. And how our lives stopped and stood still, while we gathered and waited for her to take her last breaths.

It felt exactly like the time spent in the birthing room.

And I remember when my daughter was born and how, immediately afterwards, I was holding her, and the sunshine was streaming through the hospital windows. But later, when I saw the pictures, they showed the room shrouded in darkness.

And I thought that couldn’t be right, I knew the blinds were slatted open to the sunny, January afternoon. I was sure of it. But my husband said no, the drapes were completely drawn.

But even now, in my mind, that room is suffused with warm light, and a brightness that went straight through me, through the pain of delivery, into the cracks around my heart. And those parts inside of me have never been the same. And so I believe it to be true.

So today, I wish warm light upon my Uncle Gary. And I hope he isn’t afraid or in pain, and that he can feel the sunshine on his tired face.

And I send my love with him on his journey, through this transition, into whatever stage comes next.

And it feels small, but all I can think of is to wish him light.

5 thoughts on “Light In Limbo

  1. I don’t know what to say, dear Beth. Your beautiful writing this time takes me somewhere I don’t recognize. I can say your writing is beautiful, evocative as it always is. Your Dad wrote a very moving Facebook post about sitting vigil with his brother and it made me feel way too far away from his lonely, fragile state to offer any comfort or to ask for stories about Gary’s life and who he was during their time together. I know Jim had Rheumatic fever as a boy. Was Gary around to offer companionship? What was he interested in? What was he like?

    I didn’t realize you were not present when your mother died. That must have been just awful for you, such a sensitive, loving daughter. The kind of time you’ve described seems kairos as opposed to chronos, if I remember Jim explaining the difference to me years ago. Kairos, describing a moment in time when change is possible leaving a distinct impression on those who were present in that situation or at that event. It’s singular and personal in it’s keepsake state. Maybe the light gives it its meaning which is more specific to where you were emotionally or spiritually when Kate was born, than simply the cheesy camera click would tell. I remember all our time together in a special light, almost like a Maxfield Parrish. Like “The Lantern Bearers”.

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  2. Your writings often bring back memories, but this one was also what I needed right now. A cousin’s husband passed away one week ago today, the father of a nine-month-old darling girl. The couple found out that the cancer was terminal a few months before the child was born, and they chose to share joy with each other. Truly, I think they found the “light in limbo.” I hope your dad and his brother and all their loved ones feel the comfort of light during this time.

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  3. You are a most gorgeous writer, I am humbled and moved,you help me through my own transition with my mother…….know u and your dad are blessed l

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rob, what a wonderful surprise – thank you for your generous words. I hope you are well. I remember the course at Washington & Lee fondly, warm memories with Mom and all of you.

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