My daughter Pickle, age three and half, has been talking a lot about death lately. The other night at dinner she turned to her mother, Cathlin, and said, “Babu and Babshi died.” She was referring to the nicknames of my wife’s parents who both died before Pickle was born.

“Yes,” Cathlin said. “They did.”

“A lot of people die,” Pickle said. She pursed her small lips and folded her hands one over the other. “Like eight people,” she added.

There was a moment of quiet at the dinner table as we all pondered her statement. To her eight was a number so enormous it could really mean infinity.

“Are we going to die soon?” she asked then.

I told her no, that we still had a long time to live, although truthfully who really knows how long they have. The dinner table discussion continued for a few more minutes but then drifted, first to old people in general, “Old is when your cheeks get stuck together,” Pickle explained, and then to dessert.

Later, after the kids were asleep I pondered our dinner table conversation. Some might think it morbid to discuss death with such a small child. For a time I might have agreed.

I, like most I imagine, preferred to look at death with a long lens, something that took place in a foreign land, and one I didn’t want to visit or, on most days, even imagine existed. But my wife is a minister, currently serving the West Tisbury Congregational Church, and as such one of her main duties involves conducting funerals and memorial services. She also once served as a Hospice chaplain.

We were a relatively newly married couple then and living in Tallahassee, Fla. As with all memories that take place before my children were born, this one seems tinged with a patina of age so great it is as if someone else had lived that life. But it is a memory I turn to often because of its impact on my life.

In Tallahassee every night at dinner Cathlin would tell me about her day visiting her clients, sometimes driving down dirt roads to wood shacks, some even with dirt floors, to be with the dying. While listening I would marvel at how she seemed energized rather than defeated by this work. Cathlin told me this was because every moment she felt as if she was doing the most important thing in the world.

When Cathlin became pregnant with our first child, Hardy, it always struck me as an odd juxtaposition, a pregnant woman ministering to the dying. But Cathlin told me her patients loved being tended to by a woman about to give birth. Now into these rooms overflowing with pill bottles and hospital beds came the round belly and rosy cheeks of an expectant mother. Many of her patients began to point to Cathlin’s belly and say, “Hurry up now. I can’t wait much longer to meet you.”

By the time Hardy arrived there really was only one woman still alive who had experienced the full breadth of Cathlin’s pregnancy. Her name was Eleanor and a few weeks after Hardy’s birth we bundled him up and drove out to see her. For decades, Eleanor had run an old motel with her husband. The motel was no longer in business and sat decaying in the woods; its only residents now were Eleanor in Room Number 3 and her assorted caregivers living in some of the other rooms.

It was a beautiful day and after we parked under a towering live oak covered in Spanish moss, I stopped for a moment before walking across the small field to the motel. Here I was bringing my new son to what I was referring to in my mind as a death room. I grew worried and wondered if this was a stupid thing to do, possibly even unsafe, and felt an urge to cut and run. But then Cathlin called to me. She was already at the doorway to Eleanor’s room and chatting with Mabel, one of the caregivers. As usual, she displayed no sign of nervousness but rather a sense of complete comfort and ease, a gift I have learned over the years that follows her everywhere and into all situations.

Eleanor’s room was very small, with just enough space for a cot, a few chairs and a wooden table. When Eleanor saw us she struggled to a seated position and reached for her oxygen mask. After taking a few breaths she returned the mask to the table, smiled, and said, “Oh Hardy, I’m so glad to meet you.”

Cathlin sat down next to Eleanor and put Hardy in the old woman’s arms. Hardy had been napping but now his eyes opened. At first I continued to stand by the far wall, watching the events unfold in front of me as if they were in a movie and not actually happening to me too.

But then, as I witnessed Cathlin and Hardy interact with Eleanor, I began to feel more connected, oddly enough by thinking about death. I thought about Eleanor’s passing which might take place tonight, tomorrow, or in the coming weeks. I also thought about my parents, both still alive but not forever, of course. Then I thought about Cathlin, myself, and even Hardy. None of us would escape death, either. It was the natural byproduct of having been alive.

Surprisingly, this did not make made me feel sad. Instead, it felt bigger than a mere emotion and I felt a sense of peace come over me. Not wanting to stand on the sidelines anymore, I walked toward the bed, sat down, and while Eleanor continued to hold Hardy, I reached around her small shoulders so that my arms could encircle both her and Cathlin and my newborn son.

During my life I have experienced many things, but when I look back on all I have done it is the places and moments my wife has taken me to, Eleanor’s room being just one of many, that jump up and exclaim the loudest, you are changed for the better. To put it more simply, on my own I have enjoyed myself, but with my wife I have discovered new depths and a complexity to life and by extension myself. I mention this now because as I write this and reflect upon this memory it is the morning of our tenth wedding anniversary. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

I have known Cathlin nearly all my life, we went to high school together, although we never dated as teenagers, she being the younger sister of my good buddy and therefore, in the parlance of high school, Off Limits. But I have loved her from the first moment I met her, a feeling that has only grown deeper over time.

Happy anniversary Cathlin and thank you for everything.