What I learned about motherhood after losing my son

I have a vivid memory of rocking my son back to sleep in the middle of the night shortly after he was born. It was dark and quiet except for the soft lullaby music that was playing.

I was imagining everything we would do once his twin brother was home from the hospital with us. I thought about them going to kindergarten hand-in-hand, playing on the same soccer team and having the same group of friends.

The CD seamlessly began playing the next song, Canon in D — the wedding song. For some unexplained reason, tears started streaming down my face as I pictured the tiny son in my arms as a handsome and strapping young man waiting at the alter for his bride.

I had just brought my son home from the hospital, and I was already planning his wedding.

Fast forward five and a half years. I had just learned that my sweet, vivacious son would die. He had a tumor growing in his brain, and there was nothing that could be done about it.

Suddenly kindergarten and soccer games and friends and being besties with his twin brother weren't guaranteed anymore. He would never make it to his wedding.

So rather than planning all the things I thought would take place in my son's life, I planned a funeral in my head for thirteen months.

I planned a funeral because that was the only thing in my son's life that was guaranteed. And playing that funeral over and over in my head ultimately helped get me through it.

Instead of looking ahead and planning every aspect of his life, I became present in the moments I had left with him. I would lay outside with him on a blanket and watch the leaves sway in the trees. I laughed with him at his chemotherapy appointments as he balanced stuffed animals on his head. I soaked in every joke he told, every smile, every weak laugh. I studied his long curly eyelashes and his big block feet and imprinted the softness of his cheeks in my mind.

Those were the only moments I knew I would have with him, so I stopped looking ahead to other ones and stayed present in those.

The reality of having a child with a life-threatening illness is that you learn that nothing in life is guaranteed. You can have hopes and dreams for the future, but the reality is that none of us knows what's going to happen when we wake up tomorrow.


We could be going to our son's ball game and planning his birthday party. Or we could be rushing him to the hospital by ambulance because he is having a grand mal seizure.

Losing Joey to cancer made me realise something I should have already known about motherhood: that the only moment that is guaranteed is this one. This one right now.

This one when someone wants you to read a story while you are busy making dinner. This one when someone wants you to push him on the swing while you are trying to vacuum the crumbs in the kitchen. This one when she wants you to watch her dance for the fourth time in an hour.

And this one when someone wants to crawl into my lap as I am typing this.

So, I hug the little one in my lap as he shows me the toy he's brought. And I sit on the floor in the kitchen and read a book. And I tuck the vacuum away so I can push someone on the swing. Not always, but more often than I used to.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many guarantees in motherhood. Our children's happiness is not a guarantee, nor is their future. That's morbid, I know. But what I've come to realize is that my children's future as I've imagined it is not a guarantee either. In my head, I've planned who their friends and interests will be and where they will go to college (and THAT they will go to college). But they might have ideas of their own.

I want a soccer star, yet none of my first three sons seems to have an interest in or aptitude for the game. Instead, they've decided they like baseball. So in this moment, I am watching baseball games — sometimes four in one weekend — and I am enjoying my sons' attempts to master that sport instead. I am appreciating what they're interested in at this moment.

We're not promised tomorrow or next year or even 20 years from now with our children. We're only promised this moment.

At this moment I have dirty laundry and baseball games and a tantruming toddler, but I also have my children. So I am going to find moments to enjoy. I'm not going to dream about tomorrow or make promises for someday or plan their weddings just yet.

Losing a child taught me that dreams can be crushed in an instant. So I need to parent in the moment and make it count because there is no guarantee beyond now.

Kathy Glow blogs at Kissing The Frog.