I was standing in the sugar-white sand, trying to imprint the sounds and sights and smells of this last day at the beach, when I saw the shadow coming from behind. I knew it was my husband, John, reminding me that I’d already had too much sun for the day and we really needed to be heading back to the condo to pack for the next day’s journey home.
My eyes over brimmed with tears, the job before me an impossible one. I could never remember this particular moment, this particular sound of the water splashing onto the shore at my feet. John put an arm around me and said, “Just a little longer, right?”
He knows my soul; he knows the words that have become my own private mantra over the years, and I entrust him with their power.
“Just a little longer,” I whispered to him when he was leaving for an 18-month deployment to Panama with the Navy and I was going to be staying behind.
“Just a little longer,” I prayed as I watched the wedding ring slip onto my finger and I struggled to remember the exact moment with all our friends and family surrounding us with love.
As our first son was being placed in my arms, while John watched in awe, I wished “just a little longer” to imprint the look on my husband’s face and remember the feeling of utter love and protection.
“Just a little longer,” I screamed in my head as I saw the look on my mother-in-law’s face. I knew the words she was about to tell me were going to shatter my life forever. My father had died at 49, after a short battle with cancer, and she was the one my mother had called to let me know. We had been on our way to my in-law’s house to celebrate John’s birthday, well before the days of cell phones and voice mails.
“Just a little longer,” I whispered as I felt the labor pains of our fourth child beginning. I loved being pregnant and I wasn’t ready for that part of my life to be over forever.
When each of our four children reached for sippy cups instead of me, walked down the halls to their first-grade classrooms, took their first steps down the aisles toward their spouses on their wedding days, handed me our precious new grandchildren . . . “Please, God,” I thought, “just a little longer to remember, to cherish, to hold these feelings in my heart.”
Last December, as I held my mother’s frail, bird-thin hand, and she took her final breath, I begged, “Please God, just a little longer.”
As the leaves fall each year, as the candle in the pumpkin burns down on Halloween, as the Christmas songs on the radio station switch back to Golden Oldies, as the last hidden Easter egg is discovered, I smile and wish just a little longer . . .
And in my final moments on this earth, whenever that may be, I pray that my final words will be “thank you” . . . for all the just a little longers of my life.