This weekend, as I was packing my son for camp I got a phone call. My friend’s mother had died.
Like most parents I spent the first few months of my children’s lives simply trying to keep them alive. Even after those months with impossibly small and fragile beings were over, I thought constantly, possibly incessantly, about what would happen if they died. As they have gotten older I have found myself thinking less about their deaths and more about my own.
When I was pregnant with my first child I remember telling a friend that for me one of the hardest parts of the experience was that I was fully giving in to the circle of life. I had created a life, which meant I had once been created, which meant that one day I would cease to be.
Sometimes in the middle of explaining something to my children or teaching them a skill the thought hits me, I am teaching them this because I am preparing them for the day when I’m no longer around.
But I am still not sure that I fully believe it. I’m not sure that I believe I will ever be able to separate enough from them to leave them alone on this Earth. As horrible as it is, when I hear a story about a severely depressed or mentally ill mother who kills her child and herself, I understand it on a deep level. If it is too difficult to be in this world, how much more difficult would it be to leave a child alone in it?
As I pack my baby boy for camp, as I prepare him to test the inevitable waters and spend a few days in a strange place that does not include me, I think of my friend and another friend who lost his mother last year. Both of these men are the youngest sons of large families. Both born in unusual and difficult circumstances to strong mothers who probably weren’t entirely planning on their arrival. But their mothers adored these amazing, brilliant, talented men and how well deserved that adoration was.
Both mothers were unusually strong women and had unusually strong faith. They left their sons convinced that it was only a temporary situation, that they would be together again one day. Their mothers left them in a world knowing that they were accomplished and skilled, well loved and well situated to survive the loss.
But still, in my mothers’ heart I know, leaving these grown men, their babies was not something they ever thought they could do.