A physician mother and how her heart shattered

My heart broke a little this week.

When you want to grow a muscle, you have to damage it first. You have to lift something heavy and overextend it. It’s sore for a few days — and then it grows stronger.

That is what happened to my heart.

My oldest son started high school. I got up early to exercise and was running back to the house to have a quick cup of coffee with him prior to him leaving. As I was on the road, I was thinking of all the things I wanted to say to him before he left for the day.

You know, inspirational things. Encouraging things. Mom things.

I approached the house and saw his ride was 15 minutes early. I raced up my lane to see him before he got in the car, and felt a pang in my chest.

My son looked like he was heading off to college. He was dressed like a man, almost as tall as his father, hair combed back and tan and so very handsome.

When did this happen? 

As he sauntered to the car, I raced up to him and then put on the brakes. Not wanting to embarrass him, I smiled and said, “Have a good day!”

He paused as he got in the car, smiled gingerly and gave me a little wave.

My heart shattered.

A downpour of memories came flooding into my mind. Me, taking him to his first day of kindergarten. Me, attending year after year of Christmas programs. Him, at spelling bees and choir concerts and field days.

For the next several moments, I stood in my driveway, in the morning silence, in tears and sweat. I walked through memories in my mind and found it hard to breathe.

What I did not think about was my promotional packet. I didn’t think about the keynote address I need to finish or the lecture I have yet to start.

I did not think about strategic planning or trainee evaluations to complete or publications looming I needed to edit. I didn’t think about conference planning or my research pile that is stacking up or the statistical analysis I must work on.

I did not think one moment of all the things – that seem so important, that truly aren’t.

I thought about days gone by and his witty, funny, sense of humor. I thought about the first time he scored a soccer goal and looked immediately for me on the sidelines.  I thought about the time he ran in the door, excited to talk to me about To Kill a Mockingbird, because he knew it was one of my favorite books.

I thought about his laugh and the way he is so kind to those who don’t make friends easily. I thought about his sadness when he has failed, and the times I’ve sat on his bed at night, encouraging him and telling him about all the times I too have failed and how it has strengthened me.

I thought about the four short years I have left until he will leave for college.

I thought about how he won’t be in my house then – and wondered who will encourage him when he fails.

How will I know when he needs a pep talk?

I stood silently, and it all came down to one thought: Have I loved him enough?

Have I taught him how to be kind to people? Have I shown him how to be honest, even when it is hard?

Have I demonstrated respect for others and taught him that you can’t buy a work ethic, and your work must stand for itself?

Have I shown him how to be a man of his word, and to love God above everything else, so when he fails, he will feel agape love in return?

I am not sure.

I just know that of all the jobs I have, this one, in this moment, is all that matters.

I hear the garage door open, and the sound of small feet.

My youngest son is standing in the garage, in his underwear, with bed head. He hasn’t gone back to school yet. He has just woken up for his last day of summer.

“Mom, will you make me some eggs?” he asks, his blonde hair, bleached from the sun, sticking up a million ways.

I wipe sweat and tears from my eyes, and say, “Of course, of course.”

I whisper words to him; but I as I say them, I realize I am speaking to my oldest son.

“I will be right there. I got you.”

Sasha K. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Brave Enough.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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