I have a friend I met in college, I will call him John. He was a friend of my older brother and over the years he became a close friend of the family. He was like another brother to me.
John has the sad distinction of having lived through a very tragic circumstance, perhaps the most tragic of experiences anyone can endure.
On a very ordinary day in the middle of the week, he got a phone call that only happens to other people. His pregnant wife and infant son were killed in a collision with another vehicle. He and his wife had only been married a couple of years; practically newlyweds.
I remember the day I received the news; it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to sit down to absorb the terrible feeling that came over me. How does someone come back from this moment I asked myself.
We all pulled together as people do in these times, and we helped with the many details and needs that had to be managed. I remember watching my sister step in and help with making sure all the family members that had converged had regular meals. Others helped clean house and run errands.
The funeral was the day I really understood what bittersweet meant. Mother and child were to be buried together, with the baby nestled in mother’s arms. Even through such pain, I can never forget the sweetness of that image. I spoke with John at the funeral and he appeared to be doing as well as could be expected. He was very sad but very thankful for the time he had been given with his little family.
Life went on, as life does.
On occasion I had the privilege of speaking with John about his wife and child and checking in to see how things were going in his life.
Once when we were speaking, John spent a few moments just remembering the last days of his son’s life. He had happy memories of just the sweet daily moments with a baby. There were thoughts of funny mealtime moments, diaper changes, and bedtime prayers.
His face changed, and his voice got softer as he described the last morning he spent with his family. His wife was still snuggled into bed and she was feeding the baby. He could clearly remember the softness of the sheets and the dim light of morning, and the amazing feeling of ordinary beauty.
He also remembered that his wife had asked him to spend a little more time with them that morning. He told her he had lots to accomplish and had to be on his way. She asked again, could he spend just a little more time, but he really had to get an early start he said. At this point in the walk down memory lane, John looked at me with total clarity and uttered a sentence that has remained with me.
He said, I should have stayed; I should have just stayed and spent those moments with my family.
I am glad to say that many years have passed and John is happily remarried and has been blessed with more children. I see him occasionally and I am always thankful for the blessings in his life and how he has rebuilt after such a difficult time.
But mostly, I remember he said that he should have stayed.
There is a message in those words for all of us. God-willing most of us will never have to survive what John endured, but no one knows what tomorrow will bring. When we can, we should stay in the moment.