Marking First Moments But Missing the Last

We talk a lot about the firsts in our lives – first loves, first jobs, our babies’ first steps, and first words.

Firsts are noted and momentous – photos taken, dates recorded. Firsts are the exciting beginning of whatever comes next – the first day of school offers the possibility of good grades, new friends and new opportunities. The first date…well, that’s the ultimate first if it goes well. How many times have you and your significant other revisited that moment when you first knew, first connected – it was special not only because of how it felt then, but how it feels to remember it now.

But what about the last times?

What about those endings that you didn’t know were endings when they happened? If you are a parent, do you remember the last time you carried your child, sleeping and heavy, from the car to his or her bed? How about the last time you cut up their food? Or the last time you read your kids a bedtime story? There is no marking of those moments because when they occur, we don’t know that they are those moments.

I remember none of those last moments with my children. None of them were recorded in their baby books or noted on a calendar – and now I wish they were. I wish I had known, the last time I carried my children sleeping on my shoulder, that I would never do that again. I would have paid more attention to the feeling, the delicious smell of their hair, the peaceful look on their faces. I would have marked it on my (then handwritten) calendar – “last time I carried my son to bed when he fell asleep on the sofa.” “Last time I gave my daughter a bath.” I would have remembered, just as I did the first time they held a bottle or the first time they slept through the night.

But maybe that would be too hard on us, knowing something was happening for the last time. Think of the pain you feel when you say goodbye to someone who is dying. Or how nostalgic you feel the last time you shut the door on a home you’ve lived in for many years as you move to a new one. Maybe it would be too heartbreaking to be aware that the last moments – and there are so many of them – are happening to us.

Part of the reason we are able to age and accept the fact that we are getting older is that we can look back and remember the things that mattered most, whether they brought us great joy or unimaginable sadness. If we were to remember each and every little moment of tiny grief, each moment in our lives that would never happen again, I don’t think we could bear it. It’s the blurring of time that makes the passing of it a little bit easier to bear.

I remember the firsts, shining moments in my life that seem to rise above the imaginary timeline I envision behind me, and I revisit them often. The lasts…they are just part of the continuum of years, of growing and changing, and loving more and more.

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31 Comments

  • It’s so funny that you wrote this today because I have been thinking about the same thing. We rarely know when a last will be, the last bottle we give, the last time we can carry our child up the stairs, the last time we spoon feed our kids. You are right, if we were to know this it would probably be too much! Thanks for a great post!

  • How bizarre! I wrote an essay years ago about this same topic and was talking about it with my husband just last night. This is very good and so touching.

  • So poignant and so true. I think our memory is incredible in that it blocks out things that are too difficult or emotional to remember. I do wish I lingered over the moment when I last carried my sleeping son from his car seat to his bed, or when he ran with excitement to see me after school because he missed me. Sigh.

    Next month he’ll be 22 and it’s all different. Good but different.

    Waxing nostalgic with you now, Sharon. Great post!

  • I like your post Sharon, reminds me of the one on how I couldn’t remember my son’s first. #badmommy. That said, how about on the funnier side like the last time my son actually listened to me? The last time my son would let me kiss him in public? The last time my son didn’t tower over me….

  • Great post Sharon! It would be so hard to realize all of those “lasts” but we are always looking ahead to the new “firsts” and I guess that is better. My dad used to say always live life looking out the windshield and not the rearview mirror, I guess he was right!

  • Oh, my goodness. I hadn’t thought of that. How very touching. I don’t think I like thinking of the last things.

  • Hi Sharon! So true and good to remember. We DEFINITELY tend to celebrate those firsts (I had two this week–one my first sponsored post on my website, and two, my first published post on HUFF Post) And yes I celebrated them both. Of course, maybe by celebrating those events when they occur (first, third or even 10th) we are celebrating the moment as special and then when the time comes it will still be active in our memories. I tend to remember anything I make a big deal out of and that’s what I hope to do with anything special. ~Kathy

    • Sharon Greenthal

      That’s why I like to make a big deal out of birthdays – for everyone! It’s one day we can make special for anybody.

  • Sharon, this is so lovely. I think you are right in saying that knowledge of the last would be too painful if we knew. But, still, how sweet would it be to turn back the clock just once more and see once more that sleepy boy….

  • Since I don’t have children, I don’t have those specific examples, but there are plenty of others–usually I do know the lasts, except for when someone or something is taken prematurely, without warning. But I can see clearly how parents might think this through after the fact.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Children do bring a different dimension, but we all have to deal with the fact that lasts occur in our lives.

  • This is so poignant and so true. I would hate to think of anything being the last time…unless it’s something I hated. And even then… Few people like reminders of their mortality.

    But you touch on an important point in that we should be in the moment…you never know if it could be your last.

    Great message.

    Kelly
    http://www.alovelylifeindeed.com

  • Oh, you got me good with this one, Sharon! My daughter just turned 13 and I know those “lasts” are going to come fast and furious now and I vow to pay attention. And I may just go back to her and ask for a do-over or two…and then relish them.

  • Very touching. With elderly parents the lasts are there too. I wish I had known the last time I would have seen my Dad, heard him laugh and hugged him.The last time my Mother looked me in the eye and said I love you. Just memories that we cherish.

  • Laurie Sotro

    Oh. My. Goodness. I never thought about this until now! My heart definitely couldn’t take knowing at the time when each of those “lasts” occurred. I’m tearing up just thinking about it! What a beautiful, and inspiring post Sharon! Thank You!

  • How true, we don’t remember the lasts. So much sweeter those moments would be. Sigh.

  • My 18-year-old forwarded a text to me that said, “Do you realize that one day your parents put you down and they never picked you up again?” I think about those moments all the time.

  • My middle daughter once mentioned, when I had lamented not having my camera with me for an event, “We can just take a picture with our hearts, Mom.” Those heart pictures of last times last longest, and we can pull them out any time.

    Thankfully grandkids come along for many of us. As grandparents, we’re a little more aware of how time flies and things end far too soon — and forever grateful to feel those moments, though slightly different, a second time around.

    Lovely post, Sharon. ♥.

  • So poignant. If you ever see the play, “Our Town” it talks about how we all go through life “innocently,” not realizing what we have until its gone. Beautiful reminder, Sharon.

  • When my son was getting ready to leave for college, I thought I would be one of those women who would silently cheer, looking forward to the empty nest. Then one day my husband came home and found me in the basement next to the washer & dryer, sitting cross-legged on the floor. I was crying into a basket of freshly folded laundry. My husband asked what was wrong. My answer?

    I sobbed, “This is the last load of laundry I’ll do for him while he’s at home!”

    My husband smiled, gathered me up and said lightly, “Don’t worry, he’ll bring home laundry for you some weekends.” At that moment, it was just what I needed to hear. That my son would still, in some ways, still need me.

    Those “lasts” can be gut-wrenching!

  • Well said Sharon and oh so true. So many times when the children were young, the pace of life was so frantic that we could hardly seize the day much less realize it would be the last time for so many of those heartwarming rituals. Perhaps that is why our memories become so much more poignant as we age, when we have time to reflect back on the priceless moments in motherhood.

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