Life and Death Lessons in 6 Pounds and a Song

Sweet Caroline and my new granddaughter Amelia Claire Ayers/

Sweet Caroline and my new granddaughter Amelia Claire Ayers/

I’ve been deeply impacted the last couple of weeks by the profound, namely two deaths and a birth.

A woman about my age whose family has impacted ours in multiple ways over the years died a few weeks ago. She epitomized serving others, contagious joy, and deep faith. She’d been one of my kids’ kindergarten teachers during a rough time for our family and she’d wept for my child’s pain and would sometimes sit next to her at nap time, rub her back and silently pray.

The other death happened the same day. I’d never met this woman, but she was the daughter of one of my neighbors, only in her early twenties. For far too long every time we drove in and out of our neighborhood we saw orange paint marks on the road where investigators had marked tire tracks. Yet, bouquets of flowers kept accumulating along the fence where the paint marks stopped at the side of the road, like a micro Princess Diana memorial, saying “You mattered, your time here so mattered.”

Then, weeks later, the start of a life. On August 13th our family gathered at the hospital with my eldest daughter, Jacquelyn, and son-in-law, Noah, for the big event—the birth of Amelia Claire Ayers, my second grandchild! Jacquelyn’s beyond miserable pregnancy had debilitated her with hypermesis. She’d spent months in bed, was hospitalized repeatedly, PICC line, home health, all kinds of suffering, so the joy at Amelia's birth was magnified.

Right before they took Jacquelyn back to her room I watched her calm the fears of her firstborn, Eloise, with such tenderness.

Then our family waited, and lined the hall outside the OR until Noah rolled baby Amelia out. I got to witness the magic of Eloise first meeting her sister and the sacred beauty of their little family together for the first time.

I’m Mimi to a new grandgirl. She’s teensy, peace in pink.

So many tears in two weeks. First for the pain of others, then for joy that jams up in your heart and leaks out.

This has had me thinking, again, about the space between these counter-weight experiences.  I’m no stranger to deep reflection and beyond deeper gratitude for the gift of that space, life, as anyone is who’s brushed death, but two deaths and a birth in a few weeks does make you see more signposts.

Shortly after Amelia was born, I was struck by the words of a mother I heard in a StoryCorps story who has cared full-time for her son after a car accident disabled him in college. She said, “Time’s really the valuable commodity that we have... It’s the only thing that matters.” And then, days later, I read a woman’s comment on the anniversary of her husband’s death that they had been married for 49 years and 9 days. And that undid me a little.

I called my husband and said, “Tim, she’s so right. Time together is measured in years and days. Days! We only get so many together.” I told him that this little problem we were having (because, you know, marriage is always just so easy), well, let’s figure this out and get on with it. Make them count. 

Time is really the gift of the chronology of moments. I want to notice the ones that play out in front of me, grab the ones that whirl by, and orchestrate moments that are worth noticing, grabbing, remembering, savoring.

Last weekend my youngest daughter, Sweet Caroline, turned thirteen. She’s the baby I wrote about in my memoir, The Long Awakening, whose birth had marked my near death. At her birthday party I watched her and her friends jump on the trampoline, slicing the twilight with glow sticks and laughter. I snapped a mental snapshot as clear as her new polaroids. 

Monday evening, after Tim and I stopped working for the day, he cranked up Jimmy Buffet, and put a speaker in an open window and we grabbed drinks, threw chicken on the grill and sat on the deck listening to the music.

“This is what it’s about you know?” I said. “Moments.”

He smiled. Nodded. An old country song played through the open window about waltzing across Texas with you.

“Want to dance?” Tim asked, surprising me.

He held out his hand and barefoot on the back deck with the sun going down we fell into our long ingrained two-step habit.

“Wait, this is a waltz,” I said. Stop. Shuffle. Smile. One, two, three; one, two, three. There we go.

Then the song was over, just like that. 

Regardless how long the music plays, I want to be moving, noticing, grabbing moments. Chronology snapshots. New babies, glow sticks, dances on the deck.

What moments have moved you recently?

15 Ways to Live an Amazing Story


  1. Know who you are and be that.
  2. Like a story's flawed hero, sacrifice for others.
  3. Keep the story from being boring.
  4. Do big things, scary things, that matter.
  5. Revise an old story.
  6. Write a new chapter.
  7. Be a worthy character in your story.
  8. Know what your character wants (you), and why.
  9. Amazing stories require conflict so work the struggles.
  10. Prepare for story turns.
  11. Be courageous and steadfast when black moments squeeze you into tough choices.
  12. Look for points of insight.
  13. Don’t live the story and stay unchanged.
  14. Do something you’ve always wanted to do with the pages of your days.
  15. Do good.

What would you add to the list?  What do you want to do to live the best story you can?