I went down into the basement tonight after dinner, and--without thinking about it--expected to see Sam sitting at the computer, either doing homework or (more likely) cubing. But he wasn't there. The chair was empty.
This is, actually, normal. Sam helps to teach karate classes on Thursdays, so he comes home late that night. But tonight, I felt his absence deeply and painfully.
In just a few years, that chair will be empty all of the time (at least, empty of Sam). My son will be a college freshman. I won't see him every day. I probably won't talk with him every day. I won't be able to gauge his moods or help him to manage his time or make sure he gets up for school. I won't be able to hug or comfort him when he is sad. I won't be privy to his daily joys and victories. Will he keep in touch regularly? Will I have done a good enough job as his mother that he will decide to keep me in his life when he has a choice in the matter? (Am I the only mother who wonders about that? I love these kids so dearly, but I am so flawed and imperfect.)
I won't be able to help monitor his diabetes, or provide instant back-up with it if he needs help. I won't be able to protect him from the overwhelm of the semester, or the pressures of making all new friends and finding a place for himself on campus.
In short, I will feel his absence like a wound, and I won't be able to keep him medically, physically, or emotionally safe. I will be proud of him, I am sure, and maybe I will sometimes relish new-found freedom. But it will take a long time to fill that gaping hole, to stop noticing the empty chair.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because Sam turns 15 next week. But it's plaguing me today, because we learned that a freshman at my university was found unresponsive in his or her dorm room...and died. I don't yet know what happened, or who it was. But something, somehow, went terribly wrong, and somewhere--not far from me--parents are living their worst nightmare.
My heart breaks for them. They can't fill the empty chair anymore, ever.
Maybe all we can do is to remember to love and appreciate what we have right now, mindful that the only thing we can rely on is that everything changes.