• Maggie Wallem Rowe

THE VIGIL


The oxygen machine has been switched off, its bellows silenced. Nothing stirs the air now but the silvery notes rising faintly from a corner, hymns older than she is. Anthems for a delivery room.


The Western Church marked December 1 as the beginning of Advent this year. Anticipation of the celebration of the nativity of the One whose birth altered time. Before Christ: BC. Anno Domini: AD, year of our Lord.


But for her, Advent began 48 hours later. The time of waiting. Expectancy. Preparation. And once labor begins, there is no turning back.


It’s quiet for a delivery room. No moans, no gasps of pain. No words. Only a brow that furrows and then smooths. One hand, gnarled with age, rests lightly on her abdomen, the way a pregnant woman unconsciously cradles new life within. The other rests in the palm of the child at her side.


The children rotate in and out of the room, hovering over the still form of the woman who birthed them decades ago. They swaddle her in fresh gowns, removing coverings, adding them. They are sleepless, anxious, checking to make sure her chest rises, falls. Wanting her to stay.


Knowing she must go.


Grief comes in waves, the preacher said when their father died. Hold onto each other so it doesn’t knock you flat.


Remembering, they remind each other to rest, shower, sit down to eat the soups and casseroles the Baptist church ladies bring. Memories surface, invoking laughter.


But later, the tidal wave catches one daughter smack back of the knees when she stands at her mother’s bed, gazing at her face, the beloved blue eyes staring, unseeing. Grief rolls the girl over, scraping her raw against her own relations, her roiling emotions. She chokes on the salt.


Where is the joy they speak of, she wails? The smiling anticipation, the glorious hope? There is nothing in her mama’s face but exhaustion.


She taught us to believe, and we know the ancient words. We learned them at her knee.

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.

So why did no one ever tell the daughter that grief feels so much like fear, like a wise man observed when his wife died? When her mother’s ticket is in hand and the ship’s about to sail, why does the sorrow still billow and roll?


Labor.


He said something once about labor. Or was it labour?

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I am flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone, the daughter says, keening. When she takes her final breath, I will be a motherless child. Though she were dead, yet I shall live. Without her.


But labor, who ever said it was easy? She labored to bring new life into the world: her children yes, but a thousand gifts bestowed besides.


And what you’re seeing right here, right now, those beloved blue eyes looking above and beyond you? This is new birth too.


She’s about to be delivered to a new address in a wondrous new country. That sweet chariot is swinging low. You can almost catch a glimpse just there, beyond the horizon.


And it’s coming to take her Home.


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