by Kerry J. Bickford
June 21, 2021
It was the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend and I was getting ready to leave work. My cell phone rang, and I glanced at a number I didn’t recognize, but my instinct was to pick up.
“Hi,” said a quiet, familiar voice and my heart did a little pirouette.
“Nathan! “I shouted into the phone. “Is that you?”
The response on the other end was a delighted giggle.
“Yup,” he said, “they let me out!”
Nathan, our youngest son, had been struggling with addiction. Each recovery was eventually followed by a relapse, and the last one had been particularly excruciating. While he was still on medication assisted therapy, he had been using methamphetamines and had recently undergone emergency surgery for an infection in his heart. We filed a section 35 in a desperate attempt to save his life. The angry, sullen, agitated person we had been so worried about when we sectioned him seemed to be replaced by this jubilant and sober one. I was relieved.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked.
“I want to come home,” was his immediate response.
“OK, go to the train station and I will buy you an electronic ticket. We’ll meet you in Braintree.”
Two hours later, he was sitting in my back seat with both dogs in his lap, grinning from ear to ear in his quiet, signature way.
“I need some clothes,” he said apologetically.
“OK” we said. Let’s stop and get a few things.”
We pulled into a Marshall’s and wandered around for the next 30 minutes gathering socks, underwear, shirts, pants, a sweatshirt and a pair of shoes. I can’t tell you how many times we had done this over the last year, but the backpacks always went missing or were stolen, along with phones (I was still paying for two), wallets, and money. It seemed to be the price of living this life and we had gotten to a place we didn’t care about the money; we only cared about doing what we could to keep him alive.
As we walked out of the store with bags in our hands, into the sun, he held the door and grinned at me. “Happy Mother’s Day” he said softly. Did I say that? I meant to.”
I knew what he meant immediately. It was more than Happy Mother’s Day. It was –
I’m here. I’m alive. I’m sorry. I know you love me. I love you too.
I felt every one of those unspoken thoughts to my core. We had named him Nathan which means “gift from God.” He was a gift to me in every way in that moment.
“Thanks,” I said as I squeezed his arm to my heart.
Everyone was as glad to have him home as he was to be there. We planned a Mother’s Day dinner with the whole family on Sunday and I told my children that I only wanted one thing –a family photo. It had been a few years since we had one of all of us, although we had photos of everyone separately. So, on Sunday we headed down to the beach and took some photos – dogs included – never imagining that this would be the last one we would take with Nathan.
Three months later, he was gone.
I kept thinking about how happy he had been that May weekend and how close I felt to him. It seemed so unbearable to think of a world without his smile or his gentle way.
I now know that weekend was his last gift to me and there would never be another Mother’s Day quite like that one. He’ll never surprise me again and I will never stop missing him, but I’ll play that memory in my heart and hear his words ringing on my head until the day that I die too:
“Happy Mother’s Day; did I say that? I meant to.”
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