If Only I Would Have Known…
That, contrary to my popular belief, the simple fact that I have a child does not make me immune to the evils of the world – namely mortality. Surprisingly, this post is inspired by someone who doesn’t even have children that I ran across this morning thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook. She’s 29, and dying of brain cancer.
That’s about my age. And given six months to live.
I’m an oncology nurse. I know how mind-blowingly prevalent cancer is today. You’d be amazed. I’ve seen women with breast cancer younger than me. Men with colon cancer in their 30’s and 40’s – well below the zone where you’re supposed to begin getting routinely checked for it. Children with leukemia for no particular reason. People with cirrhosis who have never had a drink in their life and people with stage 4 lung cancer who have never smoked. The world is an evil, horrible place, my friends.
And it made me think. I could get that news tomorrow. I could suddenly have a headache and by the time I thought to worry already be halfway gone. It could be any of us. She’s 29. I have a friend from nursing school who, months after her mother lost her battle with breast cancer, found out she too had it in her early 20’s – again, well before women are supposed to start getting yearly mammograms. What if I got that news? What if I got that news about my son?
Believe me, I can only write this because I’ve had a glass of wine, and because I’ve already shed the tears and prayed the prayers for all of the people I know, and all the people I don’t, battling disease before they should have to. None of us are guaranteed a hundred years – I think we forget that. Because it just seems so…wrong. No one imagines that they won’t see their grandchildren, or even see 30.
I was sitting on the floor today trying to convince my toddler to come give me a hug, which he shook his head “no” at with an impish grin before running around the other side of the island in our kitchen in an improvised game of hide and seek, and finally, I laid down and said, “Oh, Kaleb – come help mommy! The only way I can ever be better is if I get a hug right this minute!!” My precious baby came running over, laid on top of me, kissed my cheek, and hugged me as hard as he could, patting my back with his little pudgy fingers. I focused completely on that moment, committed every second to memory, and chose to cherish it.
The other day, he got in trouble for whacking the dog with a toy broom. He got put in time out, he pouted, he sulked, and when I told him he could come out a minute later, he came over, hugged Buster, and said “sowwy Bus Bus” as he sniffled. And then miraculously didn’t do it again. I had a moment of triumph as a mommy. “He’s a good boy. He knows when he does wrong, he apologizes, and he learns from his mistakes. Maybe I’m doing something right after all. Maybe he WON’T, in fact, end up a delinquent.” And I focused completely on that moment, committed every second to memory, and chose to cherish it.
Every once in a while, he will stay asleep at nap time when I go in and open his curtains, and I’ll get to sit there and watch his little mouth move in his sleep and his little hands hold onto his owl he loves, and his ridiculously-long-for-a-boy eyelashes flutter with his dreams. And I think, wow, we made that. Out of just our love, and the blessing of God that we weren’t even entitled to, we made this perfect little thing. And I think of Forrest Gump (my fave) and I think – “Isn’t he beautiful? He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” And I focus completely on that moment, commit every second to memory, and choose to cherish it.
At night, when I come home from a long day at work, where everything went wrong, I got puked on twice, pooped on more than I’d like to remember, and feel absolutely fried, the minute I walk in the door I hear “Mama!!!” said with such excitement it’s like the whole world just stopped, and I hear the hurried pitter-patter of his little short legs racing to meet me before I even get out of the entryway, and I feel like the luckiest woman that has ever lived. No matter what, I realize then, I am the only person in the whole world he will ever know as “Mama”. And I feel so blessed to have had that moment. And I choose to cherish it.
None of us will live to be as old as we want to be. And I may not even have Kaleb as long as I selfishly want to have him. But friends – regardless of what you believe about death, the fact is that we have had these moments. If I died, I am sure it would devastate my son; he would be lost, confused, upset. But he would remember what it felt like to have loving arms run to him when he got hurt, he will know his ABC’s and 123’s because we sang them at bath time, he will know what a loving set of parents looks like, he will know what it means to feel safe at home. I gave those things to him. And if I find out I’m dying tomorrow – I will die with more moments in my head than a lot of other people in the world get to have. And I will CHOOSE to be grateful for those. I will CHOOSE thankfulness for what I’ve been given – moments that I only have because God allowed me to live in the first place. The memories of kissing the back of his neck as a little newborn that was my favorite place, the pride I felt at handing my husband his only son – knowing it was the greatest gift I have ever given anyone, the way it sounded the first time my son said my name (I think I will perfectly hear that little voice, saying that word, until my last moment), how it feels to have him reach up and grab my hand and walk side by side with me.
And should Kaleb go “before his time,” I will remember what my mother said to me when he was a newborn and I was terrified of something happening to him – “He was never really yours anyway. He’s on loan to you from God and you have to love every day you’re given.” I have tried to do the best with him that I can while I’ve had him. I truly believe no one else could have been his mommy the way I have been, just as all of us are mommies to our specific children for a reason. Some mothers lose babies before they even get to know their personalities. Some mothers lose their babies in infancy with no warning at all. Two years seems a measly sum to me, but it’s two more years than couples struggling with infertility may ever get – and we were there before, wondering if we’d ever hear a heartbeat that we two created. There are bad days, and there are perfect days, and there are all the days in between. But, if I died tomorrow, I can say I’ve had a perfect life. I can say my son had a happy, loved life. I can say I had a wonderful husband and my son had a wonderful daddy. I can say that I got more than I deserved. More than I ever could have dreamed. And that’s why I feel for that woman, why I feel for all of us.
CHOOSE to cherish the moments. You’ll be glad you had them. And you’ll really love the “extras” you get every day past when you start doing it. My life, already, is a catalog of blessing, and I haven’t even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But I’ve walked the road of the life I’ve been given, and tried to make the best of it that I can. And gosh, do I love it. I love it so, so much.
All Our Love, Allison and Kaleb