I hear the baby crying on the monitor. I open my eyes, roll out of bed, and stumble to his room. “Mama’s here,” I whisper. I pull him out of the crib, pop him on my hip, and wander downstairs in the dark. He wants to, “Eat, eat!” I grab a banana and some applesauce from the fridge. The clock on the stove reads 4:56 a.m. “Why are you up so early, boy?” I ask, followed by a forehead kiss.

We hike back upstairs, crawl in Mama’s bed, and sneak under the covers, trying not to wake the snoring toddler next to us. His big sister still doesn’t sleep in her room all night. 

Baby eats his pre-breakfast snack; we snuggle. After a few minutes of silence, I drift off to sleep. “Mama . . . ” he coos in the sweetest little boy voice. Well, I guess you’re up for the day. I guess we’re up for the day. 

Most mornings, I would be annoyed by such an early wake-up call. Today feels different. This Tuesday morning, for whatever reason, I don’t mind snuggling before sunrise.

Then I feel it—the wave of grief, the wave of memories and what ifs. Ah, there it is—the nagging question that comes to me even in the earliest of mornings.

What if I only have 12 years left with you?

No one knows about this question, not even my husband who’s up before everyone to go to work.

What if I only have 12 years left with you?

No one knows, but I do. I know why this question exists.

My little brother died when he was 12. He was diagnosed with cancer and passed away just four months later. I was in my 20s and old enough to feel the loss on many levels. I felt it as a sister, a daughter, and the oldest sibling who couldn’t protect my family.

On this Tuesday morning, I feel it as a mother.

What if I only have 12 years left with you?

I named my son after my brother. And one day I will tell him how I picked his middle name. I call my boy by his full name when I need to hear it—to remind myself of what I lost. I say his name out loud as a reminder to live fully, richly, deeply, and lovingly.

What If I only have 12 years left with you?

I grieved, I healed, and I’m OK. But that’s the thing with loss—it’s always a part of you. And this question, this thought, will never leave me. So I have to deal with it.

What if I only have 12 years left with you?

Yesterday I rolled my eyes over countless messes. Yesterday I yelled when the baby threw his food all over the floor. Yesterday I said things I regret. But I want this Tuesday to be different.

What if I only have 12 years left with you?

It’s now 6:30 a.m. The baby is enjoying breakfast. I love his little hands and mouth all covered in jelly. I watch him while my coffee brews.

Look at that beautiful sunrise, boy.

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Audra Powers

Audra is a wife and a stay-at-home mom to three young children in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She loves hiking, music, and thrifting. Audra writes about faith, family, and living motherhood empowered. You can follow her adventures in motherhood on Instagram @audrapowers.