My former hometown lost a mother this week. I know we lose mothers every week (every day, every second..), but this one I knew. Sort of. I didn’t know her well, but our paths once crossed every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when our then toddlers (now teens) attended the same preschool. We greeted each other in the hallway during drop-off. She seemed kind, gentle. Her smile was sweet and warm. I wouldn’t have called her a friend, but not by any conscious choice. That, it seems, was just a missed opportunity… like so many others.

When I was young, my mom used to say that losing Carrie or me would be her life’s greatest tragedy. I argued back, “No, Mom, losing you would be the worst.” She was a single mother, after all. If we lost her, who would we have? Who would ever love us as much as our Mom?

“You’ll understand when you’re a mother,” she said. Now that I’m a mother, I do understand. I understand that losing someone out of turn — a child, a young mother, a friend — is a loss that has no equal. Mothers shouldn’t bury babies. Babies, in turn, shouldn’t bury mothers.

When the universe gets off course (as it so often does), we are reminded to remain here and present, with our feet firmly on the ground and our hands holding on to those who mean the most.

This morning, Gus came up for school with greasy, unwashed hair — even though we’d told him multiple times to shower last night. He chose differently; I was furious. He left upset. I left upset. Tonight after bowling practice — while he’s washing his greasy hair — I’ll think about that baby of ours who was once tethered to life on this earth with the most fragile and frayed of strings. I’ll think about the machines that kept his lungs working, about the fight his brand new body endured in order to remain on this earth. I’ll remember his lovely red curls and his chubby elf cheeks. And when he comes to the dinner table with freshly shampooed hair, I will hug him. Even though he won’t want me to. And I’ll remember why I hugged him when he refuses to eat his vegetables.

It’s impossible to live every moment as if it’s your last. There are, after all, practicalities to tend — dinners to make, errands to run, underwear to wash, dogs to walk. But every now and again, we need to take a moment to breathe, to think about why we’re really here. To hold our kids… in memory of the Mom who no longer gets the chance, in honor of the kids who had to say goodbye too soon.

Yes, life ebbs and flows and we get happy and angry and sad and grouchy. But don’t let too much time pass between the blow-up and the reconciliation. Don’t let them leave without saying, “I love you.” The space between Now and the Unimaginable Then might be too small for a second chance.

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7 Responses

  1. I put Ila in her room today for hitting her dad. Then it was time for me to go to work. I left without making sure she understood that I still loved her and that mistakes are fine as long as we learn from them. This beautifully written essay makes me feel a tad bit guiltier. But much more aware that I have to do better at remaining in the present and remembering what is important. Two minutes later than I usually am to school wouldn’t have hurt much. Sigh b

  2. So beautifully said. When I get frustrated now with my now adult kids– paths they’ve chosen, disagreements about childrearing, diets, and so on.. I try to walk around saying to myself.. at least it’s not cancer… and try to get a grip that life is so short. Thanks for reminding.

  3. Yes to all of it, but especially your penultimate paragraph. If I lived every moment like it was my last, bills would be hard paid. I try to insert levity and love into “mundane” moments as often as possible to get close to fulfilling that dream, but there are many moments that must be worked with focus and less whimsy than I prefer. And yet, there is much to wonder and rejoice at, and I do my best to see it, knowing it is a gift to get to be here and be loved.

  4. I’m so sorry, Katrina. Hug those babies of yours tight tonight. And you’re so right, no loved one is easy to say goodbye to. I’m walking through some of those emotions as our family gears up for my brother’s 3rd deployment to Afghanistan. Those phone calls, skype chats, they are so precious and priceless. Thanks for this post, it perfectly encapsulates my own feelings. It’s beautiful and such a poignant reminder.

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