Isn’t that something that’s not supposed to happen to you until you’re in your late 60s? When your own children are all done growing up and are settled, and probably have kids of their own?
It’s one of those inexplicable phrases you don’t really stop to think about until it happens to you.
And then it happens to you and you are momentarily terrified. A routine exam finds something “suspicious.” Which leads to further testing by specialized medical professionals, which leads to scans and ultrasounds, and to repeated donning of gowns that tie in odd places. And then come the many days and nights of waiting anxiously for calls or emails.
And this waiting period gives you plenty of time to take stock of your life. And the roles you play in other peoples’ lives. And if you are a parent, no matter how old your kids are, you begin to envision their lives without you in them.
This makes you sick to your stomach and you find yourself tearing up at the dumbest things, all while struggling with exactly how much to tell them before you actually even know yourself. At the oddest moments, your fears run away at breakneck speed and drag you along to dark places you don’t want to go to.
As I recently sat contemplating my much-too-early demise, my thoughts swirled with how my two college-aged kids would handle life without me. They would still have their Dad, hopefully for many more years, to love, guide them and support them, but I’d feel overcome with an intense and precise worry. One that only a mother has a special predisposition for.
I know that one day it will be just the two of them on this Earth. Brother and sister, without parents there to encourage and facilitate their bond. And my singular wish is for that bond to be ironclad.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve sadly been witness to a number of tight sibling bonds unravel, several to the point of permanent disrepair. This has happened to close friends and to extended family members of mine, and there are few things in life that I’ve found as heartbreaking as this.
And the worst thing to me is that these severed relationships often are the result of something insignificant. Yet, with time, neglect, and often hurtful words, they have festered into an impenetrable wall that no one wants to consider breeching. How can adults be so stubborn and unforgiving?
I’ve laid awake at night, unable to sleep quite often over the past few weeks. And in the darkness, I’ll play myself a mental slideshow of my son and daughter, at various ages during their childhood. With only two years separating them, they have each served as a constant companion to the other while growing up.
I’ve watched them make sandcastles on the beach, carefully packing down sand into colorful buckets, and using sticks to carve out windows, and leaves to adorn walls.
I’ve scrutinized them picking blackberries together in a patch of bright green bushes, their sun-kissed faces and fingers turning purple as the juice ran down their little chins.
I’ve seen them sitting together on a staircase at my parents’ old house, in their pajamas on Christmas morning, bouncing with impatience as they waited for us to tell them it was OK to run down into the family room where the tree and presents awaited them.
I’ve watched over and over again, the way they hugged each other silently and tightly as my daughter left home for college, leaving her brother behind with tears in his eyes.
And I want nothing more in this world than to know that scenes like those will continue to play out, for decades into the future.
No matter how far apart they live from each other. No matter who they marry, or how busy their job and family keep them some day. No matter if they go for months without talking on the phone. No matter what.
And so, later this summer when we are physically all together as a family, I will sit them down and tell them of my only wish. I know there will be tears – mostly mine. And they will feel fearful, but I will force myself to get it all out.
I will do my absolute best to explain my thoughts and share my fears and hopes. That there is nothing more important in this world than family and that the sibling bond is unique and precious. I want them to know that prioritizing that relationship will absolutely require work and sacrifices in the future, but that it will be worth the effort.
It has yet to be established if my “health scare” is something that takes me from my family much too prematurely, or if it will be just one of those weird things that I will need to be vigilant about for the rest of my life. In either case, I’ve forced myself into a place of hesitant peace, and of gratitude for this unwelcome surprise.
Because it’s shown me that so many of my everyday concerns are simply ridiculous. And it’s narrowed down my field of focus to what truly matters, and to what I need to say to my kids now, before that opportunity is taken away from me, as it is for many parents.
Family is all that matters, and having my children know now what my “dying” wish is, whether that day is in twenty-five years, or in twenty-five months, means everything to me.
I wish I could promise them that I’ll unquestionably be around for all of their future big days, like their weddings and the arrivals of their children, but no parent can promise their children that.
I just hope that they will promise each other that their bond will remain solid and resilient for as long as they are both alive.
The author wishes to remain anonymous
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