For The Last Time…
The bittersweet of knowing ‘never again’
As many times as you have heard, “it’s never as good as the first time,” how many times have you thought, “if only I had known it would be the last time?”
Life is full of firsts and lasts — some good, some not so much. There are the joys of first steps and first words, first kisses and first loves. And then there are the last times.
We spend a great deal of time looking forward to our firsts, yet often remain blissfully ignorant to how fleeting each moment really is and quickly forget that it could be the last. Sometimes, that ignorance is not bliss. Sometimes it robs us, taking with it beautiful memories that we cannot quite piece together as fully as we would like because we did not know they would be the last.
I have recently experienced some significant lasts, which has left me wondering — is it really better when you know it is the last time?
The last firsts
A few weeks ago, I took my son’s last first day of school picture. He is a Senior and will graduate high school this year. As I snapped that picture, I was flooded with emotions and memories of the many first days before. He hates to have his picture taken and usually I would pick my battles and let it slide. But I knew this was the last one and I was not yielding to any protests. I got that last picture and marveled at how fast that day came, despite days that felt endless and like we would never get here.
That same day, I drove my daughter to school for her first day for the last time. In a few weeks, she will have her driver’s license and next year she will drive herself to school on her first day. On the short drive, I subjected her to mushy mom talk about how I could not believe this was the last time I would be taking her for her first day of school. She, of course, is focused on her impending freedom while I am clinging to memories of when she needed me more and dreading those rapidly approaching last days when she leaves for college.
But these are the “good” lasts — the ones we know are coming and for which we prepare. When they arrive, we are blessed with being able to savor the moment and craft it into the perfect memory.
Just ask any mother about the last bottle or last time she nursed her baby as she cradled him in her arms with a tear streaming down her cheek, holding a little hand in hers while trying to memorize every little curve of his face, every hair, and the feeling of his sweet little breath close to her. We soak up every last detail and etch it in stone in our brains to be remembered fondly forever. Because we can. Because we know.
But it is the last times we do not realize are the last that haunt us.
In addition to these monumental milestones I have recently experienced with my kids, there was another that was not so sweet. I ended my relationship with someone with whom I have shared my life for the past decade and found myself contemplating other lasts, as well. It was with profound sadness that I realized there were many I did not remember because I did not realize those would be the last of those times.
I do not remember when the last time was that we really enjoyed our time together before we found ourselves unable to enjoy each other’s company. I do not remember our last kiss or last hug. I did not realize, at the time, that it would be the last one so I paid no attention to it.
And that is the hard part of not knowing when it is the last time. When you don’t know, you are left struggling to remember the details or even the moment altogether. And it kind of haunts you.
Sometimes you see it coming and sometimes you don’t. I knew the relationship was ending so I did have the luxury, in a sense, of knowing that some things would be the last. In some ways, it made it harder — knowing that we were saying goodbye and closing a chapter. Barely able to remember many of the last of our good times, and now facing unknown firsts in our lives ahead without one another.
Relationships end. People die. Through all of it, we are left with a litany of firsts and lasts. We always know when it is the first time, but we don’t always know when it is the last.
When someone walks out the door, we take for granted that they will be back. When they don’t return, we replay those last moments in our minds endlessly, wishing for one last conversation and regretting the words left unspoken — or worse yet, ones that should never have left our mouths in the first place.
We are reminded often to live each day as if it were our last. Probably because if you did, you would remember each moment of it. Every detail.
You would remember the way the rays of the sun peep through the clouds on your morning drive to work.
You would order dessert and savor every last bite of it without an ounce of guilt, knowing it was the last time you would behold such sweetness in your mouth.
You would put down your phone and pay attention to the story your child is telling you about their day at school because you would know that you would never get to hear another.
You would memorize the last time you made love, the feeling of your partner beside you, and every hushed word shared across the pillow, making sure you treasured each one so you could be sure you would not forget the sound of his voice as each word escapes.
Because when you know it is the last time you make sure to make it count.
You remember to say “I love you.”
You say “goodbye” because you can.
With all due respect to Sir Elton John, I might disagree with him that “sorry” seems to be the hardest word, though that one can be tough, too. But I believe the hardest word is actually “goodbye” — particularly when you cannot bring yourself to say it, or simply never had the chance and wish you had just one last time.
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