A week later, and I am still suspended somewhere in between shock and terror.
We were all together at her son’s backyard birthday party just last summer. Our boys were nursery school classmates. Buddies. Two parts of their own little crew of three. We didn’t know each other well enough to call ourselves friends. Maybe us considering ourselves acquaintances would even be a stretch. But we were friendly. Always friendly. My son liked her son. Her son liked my son. And we knew and liked each other’s sons after months of pick-ups and drop-offs at school. That was all we needed to connect as mothers.
About a month after the party, I transferred my son to a new school. He was now three towns away. There were new kids for him to get know and new moms for me to forge a connection with. My intention was for my son to remain one in his crew of three despite the fact that he was now in a different school. There was no reason not to. His two buddies lived close to us. All three of us moms had cars. Certainly, we could keep the boys together.
But then life happened. As it always does.
Intentions are sometimes left at just that–intentions. New routines are created. Seasons change. Time moves forward.
Last week, as we registered in the unusually quiet and near-empty emergency room, a woman said, “hi” and excitedly called my son’s name. I searched the familiar face desperately trying to bring her name to mind. A half year’s time had robbed me of my ability to readily recall.
We took our seats in the waiting area. She continued to make small talk with my son. It was when she asked him, “So how do you like your new school,” that I knew exactly who she was. One of the moms from our boys’ crew of three.
We chatted about what brought her to the emergency room with no kids in tow, how her son and daughter were, and great learning apps for kids. Typical mom stuff. Our lighthearted convo turned devastating when she asked whether I had heard about the other mom. The mom who hosted the birthday party last summer. I had heard nothing.
“She passed away,” she said. “Was at her job eating lunch and just died.”
I sat staring at her. Stunned. Horrified. In complete disbelief.
I whispered the boy’s name. Hoping I got something wrong about what she had just told me.
“Yeah,” she said as she continued to scroll on her phone. She had obviously lived with this tragic news for some time. Clearly, it had registered. But for me, it was new. Raw. And completely unfathomable.
I didn’t want to come across as melodramatic. It had been a half year since I had seen or communicated with any of them, so I mumbled something like “my God” and “I can’t imagine.” I asked how the mom’s son and daughter (who was some years older than all of our boys) were adjusting.
“He doesn’t remember her now. But the daughter does. When it first happened, he cried alot at the school. He would say ‘mommy, mommy’ and we would all just hug him.”
The only thing I remember from the rest of our conversation was that I promised to contact her to arrange a play date for our sons.
This time, I will follow through.
Days later, and that night in the emergency room continues to haunt me. How could this vibrant woman, at least ten years younger than me, no longer be here to mother her children? There is something obscene and distorting to the natural order when a parent leaves this earth before their child has even entered the first grade. It simply is beyond our ability to understand how or why this happens.
Her death drudged up every one of my deepest fears. I felt and continue to feel unbelievably self-centered for thinking of me and my son when it is she and her son who are apart. I demand of myself, “How could you?” But then wonder how could I not? It is every mother’s worst nightmare. It is the day that you pray to God to stave off. The day that you never want your child to open their eyes to see. At least not until he has the maturity, experience, maybe even a family of his own to love and comfort him through the pain of his loss. Someone who will be there for him like you would be. Even though no one could ever truly be there for him like you.
I understand my own mother’s plea to God to spare her life day after day, year after year since I was a child. It was never about her, but always about me. I now am, likewise, on bended knee. Replete with surrender. Praying the same prayer. Not for me, but for my son.
One generation after the next–asking, most of all, just to be there.
That’s all I ask.
Please let me be there.