Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leaning toward New Life

My grandfather is in the nursing home dying. He is no longer eating, refusing food, and taking only water for the most part, in tiny sips or doses from a sponge, when he is able. His mind remains sharp, but his body is in rapid decline.

I hold this knowledge in my own limbs as I move through my day, acting as normal as possible, but knowing death is imminent. It's a precious time. A sacred time. These are days, moments of privilege and re-ordered priorities, as family members recognize the closeness of Francis Liewer's passing.

Last Friday afternoon, in lieu of driving directly to Omaha, Nebraska, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to see my siblings, my husband and I changed routes and instead pointed our car to Norfolk, to St. Joseph's nursing home, where my grandfather had just been moved. It was a happy choice we made, shifting our course, and going to my hometown. My mother's voice the other end of the line -- tearful, weary, breaking in a rare occasion, after spending eight days next to her ailing father; Francois and I knew we were being called to grandpa's bedside.

At six months pregnant, I am not only emotional, but my body is larger than it's ever been, carrying baby and new weight, readying and making way toward giving birth. Tending to my grandfather's health brings all aspects of our human bodies and vulnerabilities into fuller awareness. Grandpa's thinning skin, his clammy fingers and touch, the bulging bed covers where underneath, I know, are further apparatus to aid him in blood and bodily fluid flow. I sit next to him at St. Joe's, hold his hand, moisten his dried, cracking lips with a damp cloth, and marvel at the proximity of age, death, wisdom, angels. Inside my own belly, baby Kiemde kicks and rocks, rolls over. The nearness of new life is almost enough to make me buckle: Grandpa's, my child's.

My dear friend Sr. Jill Underdahl recently wrote to me saying that, among other things, "St. Joseph is the patron saint of happy deaths." As a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, Jill shared this information about her order's namesake, expanding my prior knowledge of the saint. "Because it is imagined that both Jesus and Mary were present to Joseph at the time of his death, Joseph's death is called 'happy.'" This information makes me smile. In addition to being patron to carpenters, fathers, the universal church, Joseph is busy tending to the dying.

In my previous investigations regarding St. Joseph, I discovered a much cruder kind of patronage placed upon him: that of happy home sales. As I put my Juno Avenue house on the market two years ago, I did much research on this matter, and found a way to move beyond the superstitious "buy-a-St. Joseph-statue-and-bury-him-upside-down-in-your-backyard" action, to my own prayerful, ritualistic way of placing his figure in a sacred spot where I paid some serious homage. I looked on Joseph as father, foster father in some respects, tending to baby Jesus, holding this precious, innocent life: protecting, loving, guiding, nurturing the child from youth into adulthood. I meditated on the many ways that that kind of parenting, that kind of care could be akin to the process of letting go, releasing something, anything beloved, and letting it evolve, become anew.

Selling my house became a seriously spiritual action. I believe St. Joseph oversaw this process. My grandfather passing, is another spiritual action. Here again: I see, (hope, imagine, pray,) Joseph is overseeing this!

As Grandpa releases his body, lets go of his limbs, these human bones and muscles and sinewy tissues that make up his earthly form, and becomes pure Spirit, (as I so believe), St. Joseph is there. As his physical body betrays him in its functioning, I imagine a larger kind of liberation occurring. The tethers of his skin and bone form are retracting, and allowing something inside him to open up, be born anew.

In a few short months, I will give birth to a new baby. At this time, my husband Francois and I have discerned that our child will be delivered at a hospital in downtown St. Paul; it's one bearing the name of "St. Joseph."

Last Friday, holding my grandfather's hand, I looked into his eyes, and asked him if he was aware that we were expecting a baby.
"Yes. You are due on May 5th,"he announced. While he had the date wrong, his knowledge of the correct month Baby Kiemde is to emerge made me beam.
"Grandpa, I have a request: I want you to be there, at the birth,"I said, placing his hand on my stomach. "We will be at St. Joe's, just as you are now, with this saint overseeing things, but we'd like you there in your spirit, pure soul form. Can you promise this?" He smiled when I asked the question. "When our baby is born, he will know you; she will see you, and probably scream and cry. But you will witness this all, and help him or her come forward."

He grabbed my hand again before I left, and squeezed.

These are moments of life I'm clinging to as I lean toward all that is imminent, on the verge of shifting, coming forward, getting born.

In peace, prayers, contemplation,
Melissa Borgmann Kiemde


dancing stylus said...

Melissa, this was a beautiful meditation. I feel more at peace having read it.

thank you.

Betty Lou said...


This is my second attempt. I don't know where my original comment went.

In summary, I know that the saints in heaven will be welcoming your Grandpa.

The new life in you is part of him.

Last Sunday we sang "The Prayer of St. Francis" "It is in dying that we're born to eternal life." We believe.

Thanks for the meditations.

Love, Betty Lou

May your Grandpa have a light-filled journey to his eternal reward.

You and Francois have a safe journey back to St. Philip.

Arlo said...

Okay. I'm not supposed to be crying this early in the morning. Thank you so much for leaning toward us all. Arlo

April said...

I am sending you love and a little reminder you don't have to hold it all Jah is there for a reason

Nancy and John said...

That story of your request that your Grandpa be present in pure spirit at your baby's birth is beautiful. As a Grandparent myself, I know he wants to be and this request means a lot to him. It's also wonderful that the baby will be born at St. Joseph's.
Again, John and I are praying for your Grandpa as he goes on this last great journey and we are praying for all of you as you watch him go; saying goodbye and thanking him for his love and all he that he has given you. What a blessing.
Nancy and John

BG said...

wow! thank you for sharing all of that. I know what it's like to sit in vigil, waiting, praying, singing songs you'd thought you had forgotten, happy for some distractions, irritated by others, at peace some moments, and some times standing on the precipice as you work towards "letting go". yes, we also have to "let go" and "let God." He's there, watching over you all and especially your grandfather because he's given this world a loving friend, mother. bless you and Francois and baby K.

standing with you and praying St. Joseph wraps his arms around your grandfather and your family.

take care. blessings be....

Sr. Rafael Tilton, OFM said...

Dear Melissa,
You must surely know and understand how precious it is to a grandfather to know that one of his grandaughters will be giving birth to new life in the family line. And to a new mom to know that the great grandfather is overseeing and sending on the power in this amazing life line. Blessings.

Peace and All Good

Sr. Rafael

And never doubt that the Franciscans have a special love for St. Joseph.

Anonymous said...

Our friend Xandra posted a link to your blog on her Facebook page. My husband and I recently (very recently) endured the violent and senseless death of his sister, over which we will grieve for days to come. We are also witnessing the onset of the death of our lovely 93 year old neighbor, who we also love dearly. Death is all around us. In the wake of such sadness your meditation was a reminder to me to BREATHE. Thank you. Cynthia Williams

Beth Tolaas said... simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing Melissa, friend! XO