“Nobody tells you about this part.”
“Which part?” Christine asked, pushing aside a stray lock. The late afternoon sunlight struck her dark hair boldly, warming the hue and igniting the streaks of silver that sparkled here and there.
Kay glanced at her from underneath a wide brimmed hat. “The firsts in life” she said with a soft smile.
Christine’s brow puckered with confusion. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Snapping a few more beans from their stalks, Kay tossed them casually into the pail at her feet.
“You know, we’ve seen weddings and births, babies walking and talking for the first time. But that’s not exactly what I mean.”
A few more beans hit the bucket. “We were never warned about how to handle watching our parents’ lives.”
Christine’s hand stopped an inch from the next stalk.
“Okay, what is going on?” she said, shifting her stance to face her friend more directly. “I had no idea when you invited me to help pick beans today that you were going to be so melancholy—and weirdly cryptic.”
Squinting mischievously, she flicked a bean pod at Kay. “If I had, I would have demanded a piece of pie up front. But seriously, what exactly are you talking about?”
Kay deflected the assault with a raised arm, baked to a soft brown by the summer sun. She laughed, but it was a forced, nervous sound that escaped her lips.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” Walking a few steps to the stout garden wall, she pulled herself up. Filtered sunlight touched her hat and shoulders, draping her in floral shadows as she sat cross legged in the shade of the tall oak tree.
“Hear me out though” she continued, hands outstretched in supplication. “Our parents were there for the firsts in our lives, right? Birth, walking, talking, first day at school, our weddings, and even the moments we ourselves became mothers. They were, and are, witness to our lives.”
“Right” Christine confirmed hesitantly, joining Kay on the rough ledge.
“Well, we weren’t there for theirs. We weren’t there at their births, their weddings, and I definitely don’t remember the day I was born and they became parents. But now….” Her voice trailed off, lost in thought.
“What’s different now?” Christine probed gently.
Kay took a deep breath. “Now we are. I just wasn’t prepared for exactly what kind of firsts they would be.”
A look of pain creased her features as she turned to her friend.
“I knew that I would have to watch my parents age, have to bury them one day. But I didn’t know that I would have to watch them become orphans first. To struggle through caring and burying their own parents without much guidance because this is the first time they’ve been through it. To see them without parents for the first time in their lives.”
“Orphans” Christine repeated softly.
The word hung heavily between them, weighing the shadows down like lead. A stark contrast to the garden before them, full of bright life and fragrant roses.
Kay tore a leaf in half and tossed the ragged pieces to the ground.
“I feel helpless—useless. As a kid, you unconsciously look forward to the day when you can protect your own parents. As an adult, you think you’re finally big enough, old enough to take care of them. But that’s not true. I can’t carry this for them. I can’t spare them this pain.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
Kay’s head shot up. “It doesn’t?”
“No” Christine stated firmly. “Because you’d always be the child. Doesn’t matter your age or where you are in life, you would always be their child. That could never be a burden you could carry for them, and they would never want you to. Especially because they know that one day you will have to bear the same pain.”
Tears filled Kay’s eyes, blending the green tones with brown and gold.
“I don’t think I could bear it” she whispered. “It’s hard enough to watch them go through it. I don’t know how to live in a world without my parents in it.”
Christine reached over and squeezed her friend’s hand. They sat quietly for a moment, letting the breeze wash over their flushed faces.
Small voices drifted toward them, high in laughter. The children would be searching for them soon. Hungry bellies waited for no clock or task.
“I don’t really like to think of it often either” she said softly. “But I can’t help but imagine it must be a little like birth—being with someone dying, that is.”
Kay raised her head, eyes still wet. “What do you mean?”
“Birthing involves pain, right? You spent hours physically and mentally laboring to bring each of your children into this world. Then, just as you think you couldn’t handle anymore, they were there in your arms, tiny and perfect and yours. The price of that sweet moment was your pain.” Christine squeezed her hand again. “Would you have changed that, if you could?”
Kay stared at her for a moment. “No, I wouldn’t. I would go through it all over again if I had to.”
“And I’m sure it’s the same for your parents. They wouldn’t want you to carry this burden for them or take away pain to spare them, because then they would miss incredible moments. They are willing to taste the bitter in order to witness the sweet, just as you were.”
Releasing Kay’s hand, she leaned back to gaze up at the cornflower blue sky. “We’ve seen births, and I’m still blown away by the magnitude of those memories; to witness brand new life and marvel at God’s handiwork. I imagine it must be the same kind of marveling—to witness the end of a life. Especially of someone you love. Painful? No doubt. But perhaps also incredibly precious.”
She turned again to Kay. “Think about it. It’s the very last gift that you could give your children in person—your last words and moments in this life. The gift of witnessing not only those final days, but perhaps also a tiny glimpse of the first moments as you enter the next life. The first second you see the face of God. How incredible would that be?”
The hazel eyes softened, this time not in sorrow, but tender joy.
“Yes,” Kay said, smiling again. “You’re right. My parents would want those moments. I know I would, even with the pain that would follow. I would still want it.”
She sighed deeply and, removing the straw hat, ran her hand through her curls. “How is it that you always know exactly what to say, even when I’m being ‘melancholy and cryptic’?”
Christine shot her friend a look, calculating and mischievous.
“Well, for one thing, I know you and that crazy mind of yours. And secondly, I really, really want some pie.”
Words copyright 2018 by Natashya K Newman. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.