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 beginnings 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 connected—it was special not only because of how it felt then, but also because of 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 their bed? How about the last time you cut up their food? Or the last time you read your kid 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” and “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.