When the unthinkable happens

Early Saturday morning, my older teenage son climbed in bed with me and my husband.  He spread his long body between us and announced, “I’ve made breakfast for you.”   

 “Yeah, right,” I said.  He hasn’t done that since he was 7 or 8 and used to bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day–strawberries, oreo cookies, and milk.   

 “I’m not kidding,” he said. “I made eggs and french toast sticks.”

 “What’s up?,” I asked, mystified.

 “Something tragic happened last night and I’ve been thinking,” he said. He had my full attention now.  He had been hanging out with some friends the night before at one of their homes.  Did they do something stupid? Did someone get hurt?

“What happened?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

His lower lip started quivering as he said, “Zander’s mom died last night.”  One of his basketball buddies.  “I knew she had cancer but I didn’t know it was that bad.  I got a tweet from Zander last night that said, ‘Thanks for everyone’s support.  Rest in Peace Mom.’  It’s so tragic and I just got to thinking about if that happened to one of you.  I’d be so sad.”  I started crying and he put his arm around me. 

 I didn’t  know Zander’s mom.  I only saw his dad at the basketball games.  But I felt the grief of what she must have gone through knowing she was leaving her two sons behind.  And I was so sad thinking about Zander and his brother growing up without their mom.  I don’t know which would be worse…to lose a child or to leave a child behind. 

My heart was breaking and it was also so touched that my son was displaying vulnerability and deep caring, which I don’t see often–especially now that he’s a teenager.  It’s sweet to know there’s still a tender place in his heart.  Today, he told his Dad how much he appreciated him fixing up a car for him to drive.  He has given me more hugs this weekend than I’ve had in the last 6 months.  He’s even been nice to his little brother. 

Death can change you in that way. Shake you awake and open your eyes to the fleeting brilliance and vibrancy of life.  Death is a reminder to the living:  Savor now.  Love now.  Appreciate now.  Express it now.

It is heartwarming to see how his circle of friends is supporting each other…in their teenage boy way.  Tweeting messages to Zander to let him know they are thinking of him.  Planning to go over next weekend to be with him.  It’s the first death to touch their group and they are handling it with such care and concern.  It’s a flashback to an earlier time when they were little boys and innocent and more open to showing their soft side. 

So just know, if your kids are entering the murky waters of adolescence and starting to “act” like they don’t care or don’t want you around or are embarrassed of you in front of their friends–they do still have a tender heart beneath that brittle shell.  And I have faith they will come back to it once that protective layer is no longer needed.  

 I send a prayer to Zander and his family to keep their hearts open and to live their lives fully as their mom would want.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
— Mary Oliver, poet