This week our family laid to rest an amazing woman and generational matriarch. My great-aunt had stood bravely at the helm for years despite the struggles of getting older and the pain of loneliness. Her heart ached for all those that had gone before her, including the love of her life. She was the last of nine siblings and represented a branch of our family that would soon exist only in memories and photo albums. Watching the last of a generation slip away seems to bring a greater sorrow to the loss. There were stories that would never be told and history that would fade gently away within our busy lives—a history that we would someday search for. We all felt the weight of it as we heard the news she was gone.
Her heart, which gave so much to us, had finally given out. Her love had towered over our family as she loved us all fiercely for eighty years. The voice of life that she brought to everything she did was now silent. As typically happens with loss, we would all have adored having just one more day to glean from her wisdom and hear her stories. Just one more day.
My boys had a lot of questions. This one was close to home for them. They were very young when they lost their great-grandmother and far away when my grandfather passed away. Now that they saw life through older eyes, they had many questions about death.
As I walked them through all their uncertainties, we talked about the stories surrounding the loss of other family members through the years. Both of the boys had the same inquiry . . . their age. The questions finally came full circle as they arrived at the subject that reaches us all. How much time, mama? They wanted to know how long I had left to live.
They wanted to know how many game nights, how many movie nights, and how many travel days would there be. How many dinners and jokes and lessons and stories were left to count down? They wanted to know how many days they would have before I was their next goodbye. What a hard question to give an answer to. I should have known these two brilliant (and literal) young men would never be satisfied with a generalized “no one really knows” answer. I decided to cater to their expectant faces with my best scientific estimate. They seemed somewhat contented with a process that had some math involved, even if they could not completely depend on the answer.
We looked at the average ages of our family members that were already gone and reasoned our best guess on how many years I might be around to harass them and make them wash their own dishes. Seventy-seven is the age we landed on. But that wasn’t specific enough. They wanted to know how many days. I obliged and did the math, jotting down the number. 11,064 days, give or take a few. I set down the pen and held my face steady as suddenly that number seemed to scream at me. 11,064. That was it.
After my boys left the room and headed back to less serious conversations, I sat at my desk and stared at the bright yellow sticky note where I had so casually scribbled the number. The reality of a countdown stared back. 11,064. That is a lot of days, right? It seemed like a lot. But at the same time, it seemed like not enough.
Maybe it was the sad experiences of the week thus far that weighed heavy upon me in that moment, but suddenly the idea of the limitation hit me hard. There were only so many days. No matter what the number had been, the counting of them was what seemed to send my mind spinning. Why was I so surprised by this random piece of information that I had zero evidence was even accurate? I knew everyone’s time here had a limit, but seeing it there in ink, knowing tomorrow would be one day less, took my breath away.
My boys had wanted me to quantify something that could not be measured. And in a way I had. I had expressed the measure. The measure that said you only can go this far. There was an end and I had one—one that could be measured in days. All I could think about at that moment was how many I had wasted so far. How many days did I waste complaining about things that did not matter? How many days had I squandered worried about things that had nothing to do with me? How many days had I lost worrying about only me and not others? How many more would I waste doing the same thing?
Probably a lot. Because I so easily forget.
I always forget. Until someone I love is gone. Until I start counting. Then suddenly the truth is right there in front of me. There is a limit. I only have so many days to do what I was called here to do. I may not know the real number of days, but I know those days are numbered. What am I doing with those numbered days as each one ticks by, leaving one less in the count every twenty-four hours? I pray I can hang on to the reality of an ending. I yearn to keep the urgency of my choices at the forefront of my mind. I wish I could stop being so distracted by the things that don’t count and fix my eyes on the things that do.
Most of all, I hope today I can remember. I hope I can remember that tomorrow could be my just one more day. What would I do if I had just one more day?