Missed Opportunities

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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