Advent is characterized by waiting. Waiting over four weeks for the joyful liturgical celebrations of Christmas that welcome Christ into our lives. Waiting for family gatherings that include special foods, the renewal of relationships and, of course, the arrival of Santa Claus. As children, the wait seemed forever; as adults, we often wish for a few more days to get everything done so we can relax on Christmas Day.This year, preparing for an Advent retreat, I explored this theme of waiting as well as how remarkable it is that every year we are excited for all that goes into Advent and Christmas. We know well the stories of Advent — Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and the angel Gabriel, Mary and Joseph, the birth of the Christ child — yet they continue to inspire us. The very young child and the very elderly adult share the anticipation of the season and the hope of the stories.My family’s Advent and Christmas usually are much like they’ve been for many years — lighting the Advent wreath, retrieving boxes of decorations from the dark corners of the garage, choosing names for gift giving, posing for the Christmas card picture. This year, though, everything is profoundly different. We welcome babies to their first Christmas, and we accompany my mother in what is most likely her final Christmas. On one recent afternoon, as I held the newest baby, only a few weeks old, I reminisced about waiting for her arrival. Information went out via Facebook and text message on a regular basis as the family followed the growth and eventual birth of the newest member with great vigilance and love, just as we did her cousin born five months earlier. We dote on these baby girls, following their every move, sharing pictures and marveling at the sounds they make, grateful for their health and the joy they bring to all of us. Similar things are happening with my mother. Messages fly back and forth via Internet and telephone. Daily updates are given on her condition. It is admittedly an unexpected situation; only a few months ago she was a relatively healthy 89-year-old who suffered a bit of memory loss. Today she lives with what seems to be ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which has robbed her of much of her ability to move and speak. Just as we waited for the birth of the babies in almost vigil-like anticipation, we now wait and watch with my mother as she slowly passes from this life to the next. And, just as I tried to convince my daughter at the end of her pregnancy to enjoy each day, I am trying to apply that lesson with my mother. Each day she is with us is a gift. Of course, it is far more difficult to watch someone you love suffer and fade than it is to wait for new life, but there are similarities. The new babies make all sorts of sounds; so does my mother as she struggles to convey her thoughts and wishes. Both are soothed by a gentle touch or hug. Just as the baby brings us new experiences and evoke memories of former years, so does being with my mother. I am struck by the vulnerability of the newborn and the elderly, and how each requires the practice of patience and quiet prayer. Just as we wanted to know exactly how and when the babies were to come into the world, we ask questions about my mother’s failing health and realize that in both cases we are called to wait.Advent moves ahead to Christmas and so do we. My parents’ house has the traditional colored lights along the garage and the tree in the living room. Friends, relatives, children, grandchildren and new babies visit in the spirit of the season.And we all pray in our own way, in gratitude, for the gift of life at all stages.Anne Hansen is a member of the Camarillo Catholic community. Her e-mail address is [email protected].