Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Welcome Home

Five days ago, my life changed for at least the third time this year. Funny thing is, every time my life has changed this year, it has had to do with a female in my life with whom I was close. The first two times had to do with my mom. First she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and then she lost her battle. The third time my life changed was last Thursday morning at 2:46 AM when we welcomed my daughter into the world.

My wife and I found out that we were expecting our third child a few weeks into January. I wasn't exactly sure how to respond to the news. We had been unsure as to whether or not we should move from the "man to man" to the "zone" defense when it came to kids. We sort of left it in God's hands and we soon discovered that the Gibsons would be 5 rather than 4. To be honest, I put my hand through a door the morning that it was confirmed. Some other things had happened to add to my stress, but it wasn't my finest hour, that's for sure.

A few weeks later, my mom was given her diagnosis. Such has been my life in 2011, a mix of emotions. I've never really been sure how to respond and just when I think that I know the appropriate response, something else happens that upsets the apple cart, so to speak. It's been one of those, "wait a minute before you get too comfortable" kind of years.

Having already had two boys, my wife and I thought that it might be prudent to find out what we were having. We hadn't found out with either of the boys, but, as I said to a number of people, I'm getting too old for surprises. So, at our ultrasound appointment, the nurse gave us the news, "It's a girl!" Needless to say, both of us were pretty stunned. I have one sibling, a brother. My wife has a brother and a sister. Her cousins on her mom's side have all had boys. There was nothing in the chain of things that could have predicted this. We both scratched our heads and wondered, what do we do with a girl?

When we first decided to start a family, I secretly hoped for a girl. I don't think that I would have minded being outnumbered. What dad doesn't dream of all the fun he could have with a little girl? Dreams of tea parties, dance recitals, first dates, and first dances. But our first was a boy, and I wouldn't trade him for anything in this world. He stole my heart from the moment that I saw his face. I love and cherish the gift that he is to me. He has a sweet and tender spirit, always willing to lend a hand and very kind, compassionate, and loving (despite clocking his brother in the head with a MagLite once in a while). Our first child carried a legacy with him as his middle name is that of his great grandfather.

When our second child came, we again did not find out what sex it was going to be. At this point, I was hoping for another boy. They were easy to understand, or at least easier. I thought that it would be nice to afford my oldest the same benefits that I had with a brother. Our second was born less than a year after we had been in Virginia. He wears the name of my great uncle who had been somewhat of a spiritual mentor to my father. My father did not have much of a relationship with his dad who disappeared around when my dad was going into his teens.

So much was going on during the months leading up to us finding out whether we would be having another son or a daughter. I think that I had probably begun to wonder whether or not it would be at all feasible to name my child after my mom, regardless of whether she survived her cancer. It probably became an unspoken matter between my wife and I, but she's smart and can read me very well, especially after 10 years of marriage.

We explored the name options and settled on a first name. We had laughed and joked on many occasions that my side of the family had not left us many options for using names for our children, at least not in the 21st century. Some names were timeless, most of the names on my side of the family were dated, at least in my opinion. But as the situation with my mom became more and more bleak, the possibility and option of using her name as a middle name seemed greater and greater.

My wife did all kinds of research on name meanings and informed me one day that it would be perfectly fine for our daughter to have two middle names. She explained the meaning to me and it made perfect sense. In light of the year that we had been having, it seemed very appropriate to name a daughter with names that meant "blooming peace and joy." After all, that's what we were hoping that she would be to us, a light in the fog, a bright flower after the rain, a glimmer of hope in a sea of turmoil and despondence.

My wife is incredible. She has had all three of our children naturally. No drugs. No induction. Au natural. I'm just glad that it was her and not me because I don't think that I would have been able to endure what she did. But alas, she's got Swedish blood and resiliency and strength runs in her veins. She endured a 19 hour labor for our first child. Naturally, she expected more of the same for the second, but he came pretty quickly. She started laboring at 5:30 in the morning and he was born by around 8:30 that morning. We had no idea what to expect for the third.

Both boys came on Saturdays. Although we thought that our first one would be a Friday the 13th baby, he waited until the 14th to come. I had transitioned from engineering to pastoring by then, so it was funny to me that they didn't "interrupt" my schedule my coming on Saturdays and not Sundays. I expected that my daughter might do the same.

Life was further complicated by the fact that I was starting a seminary class in D.C. on Friday. Somehow, she ended up coming on Thursday instead. I can only wish that my kids continue to be so respectful throughout their lives (ha!). I was able to rest enough to get to my class on Friday and even enjoy a Sunday where I had little responsibilities within our morning worship services.

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel in the midst of all of this. I am beginning to get used to saying "she" and "her" instead of "he" and "his." I think that my wife is very happy. She's no longer as outnumbered as she was before and before our daughter came, there was pretty much no chance of a female dog as there are allergies a plenty in our house.

Everything happened so fast that it was hard for me to respond. Within a little more than an hour of getting to the hospital, our daughter came. I was so concerned about making sure that my wife was comfortable and had everything she needed that I hadn't given much thought to the immenseness of what was happening. When she arrived, I thought to myself, "I wish Mom was here to hold her granddaughter." I wish that she could have survived for just a little bit longer. Two months and three days is all that she would have needed.

To be honest, I think that she willed herself to live for as long as she did. When she knew that death was looming around the corner, I sort of think that she welcomed it like an old friend rather than fighting it off. There were no complaints and cries, just a quiet dignity and strength that I could read pretty well. I wouldn't say that she gave up, I would say that she succumbed to the inevitable. After all, even if she had survived, a few years down the road, she would again be staring death in the face.

My daughter's legacy is that she has her grandmother's name as a middle name. I don't think that I ever told Mom that we were going to do that, but I kind of think that she knew. I had begun writing her eulogy before she died and read it to my family in my parents' living room with Mom in a bed in the other room. All the healthcare professionals told us that she could hear us when we were beside her, and I know that moms have that uncanny knack to hear and see things that the average human being is incapable of hearing and seeing.

My daughter came into the world with screams and cries. My mom left this world with a whisper, a hushed breath that grew fainter and fainter. My daughter will never physically know her grandmother in this life, but through the power of story, she will know her. I expect that they will meet each other one day. I expect that Mom will be waiting for her. In my mind, I even imagine conversations that could go on between my mother and daughter in my daughter's dreams. Mom is gone, but I've been given a little angel to care for in Mom's absence.

So much of the imagery around Mom's death was about planting. Trees were planted. Bushes were planted. The earthly shell of my mom was planted. And a seed was planted that grew and became a little girl. When I look at her and her name, I think of Mom. As she grows, she will teach me more and more about how much her grandmother meant to me. Not sure how, but I expect that Mom will be smiling as it happens.

As I lean down to kiss my little angel "goodnight" tonight, I will miss my mom. But somehow I think that she feels like I'm in pretty good hands. I might think that my daughter's been put on this earth for me to look after, but I should probably think again. Maybe she's really hear to look after me. I love you, Mom, and I miss you very much. And I love you too, my sweet little blooming peace and joy.


  1. This is beautiful, Jon! Little girls do change your life, as I am learning myself. We named our daughter Rachel after my paternal grandmother and her middle name Marie after my mother Mary. And the meaning of both names (Rachel Marie) is "spiritual little lamb." Bet you can guess what she will be for her 1st Halloween? Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and for keeping your heart open to all life's possibilities. Congratulations to your family on your beautiful little girl!!

  2. that was so beautiful to read. You have a wonderful way of writing down what you feel. I'm so happy for you and carrie. And I'm sure your boy's are gonna be so protective of her, they probably already are. We miss ya'll and love ya'll. Give little chloe a kiss for me, and tell the rest of your family I said hi.

  3. Nice stuff, Jon! Little boys are indeed special, but little girls have a way of stealing a daddy's heart.