Every year I come across this photo. It is one of my favorites.
Not because it was such a peaceful or happy time in my life, but because it was such a perfect moment for me in a time that was not perfect at all.
My dear friend had suffered the devastating loss of her adult son to drug addiction. Her heart was aching for the boy she remembered, lost to a beast who showed no mercy.
I was blessed with a beautiful newborn baby boy, but my heart was in turmoil because, just a year before, I had endured my own devastation when my son died unexpectedly at 17 weeks gestation. There was never a reason or explanation to be found.
We were bound in the mutual pain of a mother who could not save the life of her child no matter much she wanted to or how hard she tried.
This was not a peaceful time for me, as it should have been. I was guilt ridden because I longed for the son whom I could never have, knowing that if he had survived, this new soul -this new gift of life- wouldn’t have happened. How does a mother yearn for one without wishing away the other in her arms?
Now I understand it was never about choice, but then, in grief and exhaustion, the lines were less clear to me.
Let’s add that this new bundle of baby-ness had it in for me. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t appreciate the value of a well rested mother, or even a mother with a mediocre amount of rest. I was blackout tired, I didn’t know which way was up, and I had three older children who needed me, too.
I was at my worst. My most vulnerable.
I’m sure I was unshowered, hair a mess, zero makeup with zero cares to give about it, and my friend texted to ask if she could come visit. I love her so why not? Come see the baby and don’t worry about that pile of garbage in the corner. Yes, it moves on its own and we don’t know why, but as long as you don’t turn your back…
She sat in my rocking chair and snuggled my son. My son, who had been screaming all day and who refused to be comforted by me. She settled him with the ease and quiet patience of a seasoned mom who is ready to be a Grandma.
As she rocked, we visited. She held him close and breathed in his baby smell and I saw her tears fall. I let myself sink into the comfort of her presence as I sank into the cushions of my couch. I didn’t sleep. I just appreciated her being there with me.
That day we did something mothers have done since the beginning of time. We held each other up while we allowed one another to lay low. She gave me the comfort of a moment of peace and rest and the joy of her friendship. She held my sleeping child and remembered the days she’d held her own little boy so long ago.
We both grieved.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I offered her comfort, as well. I reminded her that her son was so much more than the tragedy that had taken him from her. He was the baby she had carried, he was the toddler she had nurtured, and he was the young man who’s smile she had adored. His memory lived forever in her heart. She could no more have stopped his addiction than I could have kept my own boy’s heart beating inside my body.
While we were powerless in life’s choices for our sons, we could be strong in our support of each other.
We mourned together that day, in an unspoken way, and I’ve felt bonded to her ever since. I’m not sure I ever told her how much that afternoon meant to me. I probably don’t have to; she understands.
Mothers seem to just know things about each other. It is a gift we are given along with radar for finding lost left shoes and knowing when the tummy aches are real or just an excuse to get out of bed again.
We know when we need to just sit in one another’s company and rest in our common experiences. They won’t be exactly the same because life is never exactly the same from one person to the next, but this mom life, this path we walk, has familiar curves and bends. As we walk it we’ll find one another at just the right time, in the perfect moment for each of us.
And every year when this photo comes up again, whether we just spoke yesterday or not for a few months, one of us will message the other and we’ll remember.