Random header image... Refresh for more!

Living in a World of Last Times

Piggybacking on the heels of Obama’s pause, I read something on Huffington Post that was equally touching, an article by a woman coming to a realization that as much as there are first times — milestones — that we focus on with a child (and I would argue, any human being), there are also last times.  She writes,

I just now understand that in anticipating my son’s “firsts,” I’ve forgotten to appreciate what he’s left behind. The firsts are monumental, celebrated and captured on film. I reveled in Little Dude’s first steps, jotted down his first words and am prepared to save lost teeth. There isn’t a first I haven’t recorded in some way. I’ve paid less attention to his “lasts.” I’ve ignored the finality that comes with moving from one stage to another.

It struck me not because I suddenly realized this truth as well, suddenly thought about the lasts.  This article stuck with me because of the not-quite-as-touching, more-than-a-little-neurotic inverse of Obama’s pause: I am so cognizant of the concept of lasts that I don’t think I’ve ever rocked in the glider with the twins without thinking this could be the last time. Even when they were newborns, though certainly now.

I wake up in the morning thinking about lasts and I go to bed thinking about lasts, and in between, I spend a lot of time (and have my whole life) thinking about lasts while I go about all my other daily activities.

If we were to look at my thoughts like a wedding cake, constructed like a wedding cake… well… do you know about wedding cake construction?  There are supports inside the cake to keep the different layers from collapsing into one another, with a thin platform holding up each layer of the cake.  So when I make a wedding cake, I place the largest cake on the bottom and ice it.  Then I push in four plastic supports directly into the cake and rest a thin plastic disc on top of the icing and supports and then slide a slightly smaller iced cake on that.  So the cake is actually resting on the plastic disc and supports and not the cake below.  If I didn’t do it that way, as I added each layer, the weight of the cake would cause the top layers to collapse into the lower layers.

So I see my thoughts like a wedding cake, held in place with support rather than collapsing in and crushing me, but a wedding cake of lastness thoughts nonetheless.  The bottom layer, the largest layer, encompasses long-range thoughts.  Will this be the last cuddle, the last bath given, the last time I’m asked to tie someone’s shoes?  Those are all about wanting to be needed, and feeling loved via that need as well as an opportunity to give love.  Someone wants a cuddle and only I can provide the comfort that comes with that cuddle, and without saying any words, my child tells me that I am loved and I tell my child that they are loved.  It’s simple.  The same is true for every time Josh expresses how he needs me, and I meet that need.

That bottom layer also contains all my thoughts for the future that come with the fact that there are lasts built into everything that begins: will my children still want to be with me when they’re older, will my husband still want to be with me down the road, will I still feel relevant in society; in other words, all the things I enjoy now, will they burn out or will I still get to enjoy them in the future?  Will these things that bring me such pleasure today come to a point of lastness?  Because if there was a first kiss as Josh and I fell in love, it stands to reason that there could be a last kiss where we fall out of love.  It happens.  I’ve seen it happen to family and friends; we know this possibility exists: that anyone who chooses us can also unchoose us.  Will I ever have to endure a last of my favourite things?  To live days of my life without my favourite things?

(To be fair, I promised you that this wasn’t quite-as-touching and was more-than-a-little-neurotic.)

Back to the wedding cake analogy.

The middle layer consists of the lasts that I am resigned to because they will happen whether I like it or not.  There was a last day of college, and I thought about that last day the entire time I was at college.  There will be a day that my hair is no longer brown.  I can dye it, but I can’t stop my hair from greying over, stop my skin from going soft with wrinkles.  There will be (G-d willing) graduations for the twins and marriage and children (if they want them) of their own.  These are the things I want to happen as much as I dread these lasts because the alternate is too terrible to consider.  If my hair doesn’t go grey it isn’t a happy thing: it means I’m either dead or don’t have hair anymore.  So I both grieve these endings long before they happen and also know that I don’t want the alternative to any of them.

And then lastly, the top layer becomes the last time I see a person.  I think about this every time I leave a person, whether it’s for two minutes or two months.  Will this be the last time I get to see them, the last time I’m with them, the last time I can touch them?  You never know.

Sometimes this constant cognition of lastness brings us good things.  A few weeks before Josh’s grandmother died, we went up to see her.  She looked great.  Yes, she was old, but she seemed vibrant.  We took a walk, went out to a garden where I snapped dozens of photographs.  I took the photos because I was thinking to myself, “what if?  What if this is the last time we see her?  I want more photos of her with the kids; more photos of her with Josh.”  Perhaps there is a touch of my lastness obsession in the twins as well, because I had brought with me the family tree that I was working on, and when she started looking at it, telling us stories about people on the tree as she looked at their names, one of the twins suggested that I get out my digital recorder and make a record of it.  And I did — an hour long recording of her telling us stories about her childhood and marriage and other family members.

And it did turn out to be the last time.

Which is why I can’t necessarily wish away my cognition of lasts, even if this knowledge is also something that feels sometimes like an albatross that I’ve been carrying around my neck for 38 years.  Because amongst all those useless minutes of fearing a last, every once in a while, those thoughts bring us something perfect like that, where I get to capture and frame a last and have the comfort in knowing that I used my last time well.

I literally can’t imagine living the life of the writer of that article where the concept of last dawns on her somewhere in middle age.  It sounds, on one hand, blissful.  To be in the moment.  Not half in the moment and half thinking about all of your fears for the future, but just being in the moment.  And on the other hand, it sounds like she inadvertently misses a lot of lasts whereas someone who focuses on the lasts tends not to miss a single one.  Unlike her, I can tell you the last time my kids drank from a bottle, tell you the last day they used a binky.

Where are you on the continuum if 1 is entirely living in the moment and 10 is closer to where I exist constantly thinking about lasts?


1 Shelby { 01.23.13 at 12:52 pm }

I can’t say this about many things, but I can certainly say it for this: I’m a 10. I think about ‘lasts’ constantly, and although it allows me to deeply appreciate moments and capture those which actually become lasts, it is also quite the double-edged sword.
Everything is bittersweet. Everything. I am always, always grateful and savoring, trying desperately to never let small things go unnoticed, but underneath it all is a continuous little stab at my heart, a reminder that ‘this too shall pass’. One day, it will be gone because nothing lasts. Everything changes. I am always mourning that which I love and enjoy today, especially the people surrounding me.
Welcome to my slice of a ‘little-more-than-neurotic’ and perhaps, a little-more-than-depressing. This is also coming from someone who has experienced an incredible amount of loss. In the last four years, I’ve lost both my parents, a beloved dog and cat and had two miscarriages, so to be fair, that might be coloring my thoughts a little. I’m really not this depressing most of the time :), but this idea of ‘lasts’ is a constant whisper in my thoughts.

2 Melissia { 01.23.13 at 1:27 pm }

I try to savor everyday and would say that I am about an eight on your scale. I have an inherited disease that took my mom and uncle suddenly at fairly young ages. I have outlived my uncle. My children also have this disease so I worry buy try not to let it influence my interactions with them. But I admit, I hug them all a little tighter and call them all a little more frequently since my mom and uncle died.

3 a { 01.23.13 at 3:13 pm }

I’m somewhere in the middle there. When I’m feeling impatient with my daughter who WON’T GET OFF ME!!!!, I often think that there will come a time when she won’t want to spend all of her time touching me. And that she’ll go the complete opposite way. I’m a person who likes her personal space, so it’s a conscious decision to not pry off her sucker-like arms and put her a couple feet away. But for the most part, I don’t worry about the lasts. I’m aware of when it’s likely, but since I greet most things with a shrug and some sort of internal consolation (“at least we had this long together” or some such thing), it doesn’t take over my being.

4 jjiraffe { 01.23.13 at 3:48 pm }

Oh, this post really resonates with me. Yes: I think about all of this and I wonder if I wait too long with some periods of the kid’s childhoods: when my daughter finally gave up her binky (3 years, 5 days) I cried a lot. This morning I snuggled with my son and wondered when the last time I would do that would be.

This also reminds me of BlogHer and how saying goodbye to you all was so hard. I worried it was the last time I’d see all of you in the same place again, it would be the last time I felt surrounded by people who I enjoyed listening to so much, who understood me. It was a legitimate fear.

5 Chickenpig { 01.23.13 at 4:03 pm }

I think about lasts all of the time, every day. I can remember painfully the last time I breastfed each of my children. I can remember the last night each one slept in a crib. Every night I sing them to sleep I wonder “will this be the night they tell me that they don’t need me to sing?” It kills me.

There was a CBS segment on TV a few months ago where a mom was watching her youngest son play his last baseball game, or something like that. He was her 14th kid? maybe? Anyway, she said that she never felt like her kids were growing too fast because she was always lucky enough to have another one in the wings. And now she has grand kids, so she doesn’t have to know what it’s like to have a last of anything. There is no way I would ever want to have that many children, but one more would be nice.

6 Justine { 01.23.13 at 5:49 pm }

I think about lasts. But perhaps not as often as I should. Sometimes the lasts hit me, something about the quality of light, or … I don’t know what makes them. But the world stops spinning for a second.

Maybe I should think about them more often … maybe I’d savor life more?

I missed the pause … so I’m glad you mentioned it here. 🙂

7 Pepper { 01.23.13 at 8:21 pm }

I think about lasts constantly. A few months ago my daughter weaned herself (a wonderful thing, happening just the way I had hoped) and I cried for days because I knew I would never have that experience with her (or any baby) ever again. And that is hard to swallow because I loved that experience. But I also think focusing on the “lasts” gives me cause to celebrate more than the average person as well – the last diaper change and bottle in the NICU, the last dose of acid reflux meds when she finally grew out of that, and on and on… I celebrate all the little things because I notice them ending and notice how monumental every little ending is.

8 Alexicographer { 01.23.13 at 9:31 pm }

You know, I think I’m about a 2, overall, with an awareness of course that that could change.

Camping this weekend with my husband and son, I went out (alone) for a hike. I thought they planned to stay put but when I came back learned that they’d gone out to buy gas (and returned, uneventfully). Only later did I learn from DH that he’d (accidentally!!) run a stop sign while they were out. Thank heavens the isolated country road was empty. When that sort of thing (a near miss, in effect) happens, I think of Niobe’s alternative universe (if you use your searchable blogroll on that exact phrase it will pop up, second post, called In Other Worlds). I imagined coming back (from my hike to learn (how?) that DH and DS had been medevac’ed … or …

Yikes. Not once did I contemplate before going hiking that they’d be anywhere but safely at the campsite upon my return.

On the other hand when I was a kid we always had to have Christmas with my dad’s family because his dad was so old and “it might be his last.” This invariably prevented my mom from traveling to spend Christmas with her family (though some sometimes visited and once I think she rebelled and traveled, taking us kids — but not my dad — to stay with her family. Maybe only after my grandfather died?). My father’s dad passed away when I was 16 and he was 89. Ironically, my mother’s mom — her dad died when she was still a child — died several years earlier, i.e. before my father’s dad, though she was just 75 when she died after a sudden diagnosis of advanced-stage cancer. I think that’s left me with a sharp sense of the risks of worrying about “lasts,” i.e., they’re (often) not useful in estimating how best to prioritize one’s energies, time, etc.

9 Blanche { 01.23.13 at 10:56 pm }

I’d say I run somewhere around a 2. It’s not because I dislike lasts – some lasts can be just as wonderful and worthy of savouring as firsts – but that I am also about a 2 in recognizing and rolling in the difference of firsts.

Sometimes it does make me sad that I have been so negligent in harnessing those memories. LO doesn’t even have a baby book because I couldn’t be bothered to break away from the trials of today.

I seem to be an outlier in feeling like I didn’t want the IF experience to color my pregnancy (if I wanted to complain, I complained) or now the ups and downs of parenting.

10 Battynurse { 01.24.13 at 12:27 am }

I don’t know where I’d place myself on the continuum, maybe in the middle? After spending a very large part of my life looking towards the future when I would have a husband or children and would finally be happy I’m trying very hard to live in the now and see the happiness I have now while being patient with myself on those days I can’t find my happy place. So I guess I’m kind of working on not spending too much time looking forward or back.

11 Ellen K. { 01.24.13 at 10:32 am }

Oh, good, another couple of 2s have posted. : ) I am definitely a 2 or maybe a 3. I have very strong, vivid memories but never of last times with a person or in a place. To me those last times don’t accurately reflect my overall experience; they seem artificial, particularly days like college graduations and high school graduations that are formal and anxious. I couldn’t tell you when the girls gave up their pacifiers, but I remember my fascination with their little fish-like mouths through the green one-piece pacifiers, and that’s what matters to me — having these mental snapshots that make a collage of memories. Some firsts are very dear, if bittersweet memories –the first night the girls slept in separate cribs or the night we took down their cribs for good; I was misty-eyed and sniffling, but the next morning everything looked new and exciting. For the most part, the inbetween times are what I remember. I don’t cry about leaving places or people because I have faith that I will see them again — even places that are so far out of daily or yearly reach, like London and Paris.

In regard to infertility, I did sit for a few minutes in my car in the parking lot when I last went in to drop off some unused meds, knowing that this was goodbye and being thankful that it was so, and also praying for others to be able to pull that parking sticker off their windshields and drive away for good.

I was thinking yesterday about what might have influenced my perspective. First, I can’t deny the Midwestern pragmatism of my family and extended family and many of my friends. Dwelling just isn’t done. (This is often an evil more than a good; I know several people whose parents never said “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” as a kid, which shocks me.) Goodbyes are generally fond but simple and forward-looking: see you later, talk to you soon. Also, I only have childhood memories of the house that my parents still live in, and I never had to be a new kid in school or hardly ever say goodbye to friends who were moving. Stability to the point of being stationary, perhaps.

My mom was the youngest daughter of a big family, and her parents died when I was 14 and 17. I have a vague idea that I saw both of them in the hospital and kissed them goodbye, but what I remember is the smell of incense at the funerals and my mom’s grief, and those final days say nothing about who my grandparents were. In a moment I can map their entire house down to the smallest details, recall my grandma’s perfume and my grandpa’s cigarettes and contractor’s dusty shoes, sniff the combination of Aquafresh toothpaste, Dixie cups, and Oil of Olay in their bathroom, taste the cold water poured from the plastic pitcher in their fridge, and feel the velveteen fabric of the couch and the fabric of my grandma’s skirt as I sat on her lap. My memories are cumulative and multisensory.

One other factor probably does contribute to my place on this scale. I was in a bad car accident when I was 16, and my C2 vertebrae was broken (i.e., broken neck). I was thankful to be alive, and also very thankful that people would not have to remember me as I had been in those months prior to the accident — a sulky, affected, irritable adolescent who had been making myself and everyone around me miserable, Marianne Dashwood-style, about a breakup. And when I read Sense and Sensibility a couple of years later, I knew what Marianne meant by “all the fretful selfishness of my latter days.” To consider someone as you last saw her doesn’t always do justice to the essence of that person or your relationship, especially in times of sadness or illness. So I don’t treat every visit, be it family or France, as if it might be the last. I’ll see them later.

12 loribeth { 01.24.13 at 11:30 am }

Probably somewhere in the middle. Obviously, I can’t relate to thinking of “lasts” in terms of my children’s development, but I have been acutely conscious of other impending “lasts” in my life. I wanted to be the last person to hold my stillborn daughter before the nurse came to take her back (to the morgue, I guess), and I was. Then when we were at the funeral home arranging for the details, the director asked if we wanted to see her. I was taken aback — I didn’t even realize that was possible (because of course so few people have to arrange for their stillborn baby’s funeral, and they don’t discuss the details when they do, so nobody ever considers these things…) — I figured they would just pick up her body & take her straight to the crematorium, end of story. I said no. I figured we had said our goodbyes at the hospital. In retrospect, I wish I had taken that opportunity, but I figure you make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time.

I do remember as my grandparents aged (& after I married & moved away, I only got to see them about twice a year), wondering every time I hugged them goodbye if this would be the last time I saw them. And eventually, it was. 🙁 (These days, I am starting to wonder the same thing every time I visit my parents…) 🙁 I can pinpoint in my photo albums the last photos I took of them. My grandfather is at the table, playing cards with us and not looking directly at the camera. My grandmother was sitting in a chair by the living room window. In the second-last photo she is looking just a little bit lost (& maybe a bit ticked at me for bringing out the camera, lol), but in the last one, she is smiling. I am glad; that’s how I want to remember her. When were cleaning out their old house (knowing that the county would likely soon claim it for unpaid taxes and tear it down), I was vividly aware that this was undoubtedly the last time I would ever set foot in there. I took photos from all the different angles outside; wish I had taken more inside. I still dream constantly that I am back inside that house.

13 nh { 01.24.13 at 2:23 pm }

Whilst the firsts are important, the lasts are more poignant, and just as important.

14 sharah { 01.24.13 at 3:14 pm }

I’m probably an 7. I try to pay attention to the lasts, but I find a lot of time, after some time has passed, that the last of xyz doesn’t matter to me anymore. For example, even though I remember the last time my son nursed, it’s not as meaningful to me as the last session before I started weaning him. If that makes any sense at all. I guess I’m trying to say, I pay attention to the “lasts” but a lot of time they aren’t as meaningful to me as other moments spent with that person.

15 Stinky { 01.24.13 at 3:46 pm }

maybe about 6 or 7? Particularly at the moment. I have a lot of moments where I’m having some form of the (not as consciously thought-out at the time) thinking: “am I taking this for granted, did I not appreciate this enough, was I too busy thinking of other things”. With the kicks at the moment, I’m wondering “is this the last time this child will kick” with the clothes I’ve bought for it “is this the last time I look at these clothes in this state of mind”. Crikey it sounds mental, doesn’t it?! I must clarify that I’m not (for once) in a constant state of “OMG its all going to end soon” stress, just more an awareness that at any point, everything can change, so trying to be aware of what’s happening in each moment. I’m often aware that every time Mr Stinky leaves the house, it could be his last . . . every time I speak to parents on skype, it could all be different next time. These are all quite big things though – death and loved ones . . . I wonder if I will be aware of the transitional/developmental lasts as they move through?

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.24.13 at 11:37 pm }

I’m a 7. While I do aim to live in the moment, I am, at my core, a documentarian. This makes me watch out for firsts and lasts.

Time is a weird thing. I mean, we’re primed to be on the alert for firsts. Because time moves forward, we KNOW when we’re seeing one. But lass are different. You don’t know it’s the last when it’s the last. You only know it’s the last when you observe the absence of another occurence, which is not itself a discrete event.

When loved ones travel, I always keep a voicemail message from them. It doesn’t get deleted until they are back home.

17 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 01.25.13 at 2:37 am }

I’m a 4. I mostly live in the moment, but like Lori I am a documentarian and so far I have done a good job of catching and recording many of my twins’ lasts. With DH’s grandmother I was also very cognizant of whether each visit would be the last, given that she was over 100 when she died. But mostly I enjoy the now.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author