I’m doing double-duty tonight. Husband lies feverishly curled up in the fetal position on the couch under that stringy, blue blanket that has seen better days. While the girls and I tiptoe past like fervent mice on a scavenger hunt. Then, on up the stairs to bedtime routines and tuck-ins. I haven’t done the bedtime gig solo for a while. Makes you appreciate what you have…a capable, competent life-partner to share the load.
You don’t know what good things you have until they’re gone.
We brush teeth, wash hands, taking care with the green marker-puppet drawn on one set of fingers. We scrub until most of it is rinsed away. Green soap suds, washed away. Another day gone. Clothing is slipped off, pajamas pulled on in their place. Four stories are selected, two picks from her and two from me. And then the prayers.
Ah. The prayers. They are either prolific or torturous.
Last night’s prayers killed me. She held her hands pressed tightly together in the iconic prayer clasp. Her cherubic pose, one for the record books. This is not our norm, so don’t be fooled. Most nights, there are pleas from the Mama for her to co-operate and settle down, and “would-you-please-say your-prayers”. But tonight, she obliges without a fuss. I leave her in her cozy bed to go to the others. Same thing, different faces.
The Older One has a tummy ache. The magic bean bag is fetched, heated, delivered.
I read to the girls from a Christmas chapter book. Because I have made this the one chapter book I will finish this year. Even if it is January. Christmas is still very much a topic of conversation in our home. Youngest informs me she already knows what she wants next Christmas. A train set, a camera and a surprise. Her sister tells her to wait for her birthday. We finish the book. Check. I can cross that off the to-do list. But it really isn’t a chore. I enjoy this time spent with my head stuck in a good book. Making it come alive for my children.
That’s what readers do. Make it all come alive. Even for the moment. Because the smallest of moments are those we often remember best. And they slip away so quickly.
You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
I lay down with the Boy. We talk about this and that. Moments later, I am tucking him in and then that the door too is closed. Another page in the chapter of our lives turned. Did I make this day count? Was it all worthwhile? Did I treasure what I had?
No regrets tonight. But I reflect on this: a wake for a woman I never knew. Late afternoon, I watch as a family celebrates the life of their mama in stills. Black and whites. Technicolor. I would’ve never noticed either had the circumstances been different. Had I arrived a half hour earlier.
We drive the short distance travelling winter roads that takes us to the funeral home. Predictably, we’re late to the wake. We nearly miss it. “Should we turn back,” I ask. “It’s nearly four. The wake…it’s over soon….probably not worth it to drive in,” I add.
We arrive to an empty parking lot, but on a whim, go inside. Just in case. The family is gathered around a screen while pictures fade in and out. Three boys, grown men now. The pain evident on their faces, for they are still boys inside. A mother knows. I understand. They are their mother’s sons.
The black and whites are simply captivating. I am drawn in, wanting to know “with whom” and “where” and “when”. What was her story? The moments she made count. Her life in pictures: a reminder to the living to breathe in the here and now. Seize the day. What a family has left when the music fades and the song is done is never enough. But a picture counts for something.
Photographs. Those precious moments, preserved for posterity. They tell a story. They breathe life into the desolate and bring hope to the grieving. And these happy memories are only possible when one has invested the time in those smallest of moments. The simple joys that happen. Inside a day, inside a moment, inside a memory.
We don’t know what we’ve got. Until it’s gone.