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Dearest child, I hold on so tight because I’m afraid of losing you.

I caught myself staring at you during story time today. We were curled up in my bed and you were counting on my fingers. I took deep breaths, smelling your skin and soaking in every word you said. I’m afraid it will be the last. I’m afraid that when you sleep you won’t wake again.

I didn’t know. That day. With your sister. I didn’t know it would be the last day I would lay her down. The last day I would feel her soft arms clinging to my neck or her sweet cheek pressed to mine. The last time I would hear her say Mama. I held her longer than usual that day. But it wasn’t long enough for the last time. And so, I hold you tighter, because I don’t know if today is the last day.

Some parents breathe it all in because they see the future, the one where you move out and start a life of your own. I haven’t been able to think that far ahead for 11 years. I’m still hoping you make it to your next birthday, and I think, if we can make it to five or nine or 11, then we’ll be safe.

But it doesn’t work that way.

I used to think that if we could make it past 13 ½ months (when we lost your sister), we’d be OK. Then I’d know you’d make it. You’d live. Until, we got there and it wasn’t enough. Then, I thought—maybe if we made it to two or three or four. Maybe then it would be OK. Maybe then I’d know you’d make it. Maybe then I’d know you’d live. And so it goes. Year after year. Milestone after milestone, always moving the “safety zone” further ahead.

I know I’m not supposed to do that. Live in fear. I didn’t used to. Before your sister died, her not living to adulthood never occurred to me. I just took for granted she would grow up. Now, I don’t take anything for granted and that’s good. But, unfortunately, I’ve overshot appreciating the moment and slid down into fear.

Fear is a sneaky, insidious thing. When you’re afraid for the future all the time, it can steal all the joy out of the present. And I don’t want that to happen. Because, the truth is, today is the only time we can count on.

There is no way to predict our future. There is no pediatrician or psychologist or spiritual advisor who can promise me you’ll be here tomorrow. That you will never have to face sickness or accident. That I will never again have to process the unbearable pain of losing a child.

The best I can do is hope. Hope and make the most of every day we have together. I can make a memory with you today, sweet boy. I can make loads and loads of memories with you today. And, if God gives us tomorrow, I can make more memories with you then, and the tomorrow after that. And after that. Until, we’ve passed all the milestones we are given, and we both have a treasure chest of beautiful memories.

I hope the future brings us decades of time together, and I hear the echoes of those memories in my house long after you’re grown and gone. But, if the future brings sadness or pain or less time than I hoped for with you, I will hold tight to those memories. I will let them comfort me. I will let them help me be brave through the long nights, until my time is done and we meet again.

For today, let’s read a second story before we sleep. For today, I’ll believe you’ll wake. For today, I’ll make dinner a little later, so we have time to play superheroes. For today, I’ll let tomorrow take care of itself.

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Shannon Pannell

Shannon Pannell married her childhood sweetheart 16 years ago, and is a stay-at-home mom to three boys, plus one daughter in heaven. She is currently living in North Mississippi, far away from her beloved Virginia beaches; and, despite a BA in English, has just started writing things for non-family (other people) to read. In her spare time, you can find her reading, binge-watching Numb3rs, and enjoying quiet wherever she can find it.

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