By Emily Smith
Death and kairos are very different words but can be easily paired together when experiencing the passing of a loved one.
Kairos, as defined by the Greeks, means the "opportune" or "supreme" moment. That's something we don't always recognize because we too often take time for granted.
My mother and her siblings were recently reminded of this as they watched both of their parents suffer through hospice care, and pass away, in a span of just six weeks. During that month and a half of pain, sorrow, and anxiety, time was of the essence. Each moment the children of Agnes and Lou spent with their parents helped them appreciate that their time on Earth was diminishing.
My grandmother had been battling cancer for a prolonged period, and her death was not unexpected. Hospice and the eventual end, though, did not come quickly. And then, before the pain of her passing had eased, even before the reality of her loss had truly set in, my grandfather fell and developed an infection. And then he was gone.
Somewhere in all of this sorrow, something magical began to occur. The gathering of the far-flung family, the shared feelings, the selfless efforts, allowed my mother and her siblings to reconnect. In this six-month span, time seemed to be frozen.
Mom and I visited my grandmother every day while she was in hospice care. Doing this allowed me to spend time with my grandmother and also observe my mom and her siblings.
After years without being together, the first few conversations could almost be classified as "ice-breakers." But as time went on, these conversations became more natural. Being with my mom every day allowed me to see the redevelopment of the brother-sister relationships. Over the several weeks that they were together, it became easier for them to formulate real conversations, genuine talks that they would easily fall into.
I could tell this pleased my grandmother. She had all six children under one roof. The missing puzzle pieces were finally being placed back together. Her final task was to ensure that Reen, Lou, Linda, Brien, Glenn, and Rudy stayed reconnected.
In the end, it was this rebirth of the family that I think prolonged of my grandmother's life. As her condition deteriorated, she was still able to maintain her signature smile and laugh. To me, this was a sign of relief and happiness, a way of communicating that she was satisfied with all she had done with her life.
My grandmother, I believe, fully understood kairos. She took advantage of every moment she had with her husband, her children, and her grandchildren. And as surprising as it was that she was able to smile during this difficult time, it showed all of us that she had completed her final task on Earth. Once she was aware that the family would be back together, she was content - with herself and with the life she had so fully lived.
My grandmother's mission was clear: She didn't want members of the family to be distant from each other after she passed.
Grandmom "Chuckie" called for private meetings in her room with each of her children. These were often discussions about how proud she was of them or (most natural of all) to yell at some because her favorite candidate, John McCain, wasn't elected president in 2008.
Each of my uncles and aunts, as well as my mom, came away from these conversations more fully realizing how precious time is and how lucky they were to be part of a unique and special family. This was their connection to kairos - an idea that is now fully integrated into their daily lives and actions.
The reconnection of each puzzle piece took time and effort, and my grandmother is considered to be the grand mastermind behind all of this maneuvering. She waited for the perfect moment to put each of the pieces together in a way that would ensure that they would never break apart again.
Before hospice, these six pieces never seemed to work in tandem. But each day throughout the experience, it seemed easier and easier to find their rightful place. This was the "supreme moment" for my family - the pieces finally began to fit together, and a longtime project was finally completed.
My mom and her siblings are no longer apart; the bond that was re-created can never be broken. Their adult relationships have grown to a new level of love and trust. Even when they are apart, they are connected.
All of this, of course, is thanks to my grandmother's patience and her deep understanding of kairos. She used the time given to her wisely, stitched the pieces back together, and created the unbreakable Team Tilley.
Today, my family thinks of time in the way my grandmother did - as something precious. Taking advantage of the opportune moment is more a part of my family than ever before. This allows us to appreciate every single second we have with each other and our own individual families.
Emily Smith is a senior at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org