Dapperly dressed in a blazer and bowtie, our seventh grader patiently stood waiting for me by the front door. His sophisticated dress and demeanor belied the fact that a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, he was smaller and slighter than most of his peers, his voice still young and boyish.
My husband, staying home with our two younger children, lingered in the hallway, and offered reassurance, “I’m sorry you have to do this at such a young age. I’m sorry for your buddy too.”
“It’s OK, Dad,” he replied in his practical, no nonsense tone. “It’s not my first time going to one of these.” Another friend had lost his mother suddenly and we would be attending a second memorial service in two years.
Our son became quick comrades with his buddy in fourth grade. They formed a tight circle of friends, each with a unique nickname—our son was dubbed “Mazda Boogie Wonderland – ‘Mazda’” for short, and his buddy, “Little Duck.” Their bond remains strong today, even after separating to various middle schools. I got to know Little Duck’s mom as fellow class parents. She was a bright and thoughtful writer, teacher, and mother. Her passing deeply affected many in our small community.
A year or so back, I popped in at her home to pick up Mazda. A cumbersome vacuum cleaner mostly blocked the entrance inside her front door.
“Just ignore that,” she waved her hand dismissively at the annoying appliance. “It’s for my high school hot shot. He’s fifteen. We’ve been having a little issue with appropriate language. So, every time he drops an ‘F’ bomb he owes me a vacuuming of one room. He racked up the whole house this weekend. I want to make sure he knows I was counting.” Clever parenting advice I put in my pocket.
My husband smiled at us both and gently nodded at our oldest, “well, you look handsome. The bowtie is a nice touch.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Mazda smiled sheepishly, “I thought Little Duck would like it. He likes Dr. Who. And Dr. Who always wears bowties.”
I breathed in his innocence. What a simple, sweet gesture, I thought. My eyes filled with tears.
“Mom, are you going to start crying already?” Mazda knew me well, and I appreciated that this time, there was no accompanying eye roll.
We arrived early for a seat at what would be a standing room only event. While the service was designated a celebration, a mother’s life had been cut short and a husband and three children were left to carry on. The overwhelming sadness and sense of loss was palpable.
From the congregation came many stories, a few laughs, and many sniffles. From next to me, came intent listening, some sighs, and lots of fidgeting. We sat closely, just barely touching throughout the service. I wanted to put my arm around Mazda’s still narrow shoulders. But I resisted. A long while ago, my public displays of affection were sternly admonished. I checked in with a glance or two from time to time. At one point we caught each other’s eye. He pointed to the program. My son and his buddy’s mom shared the same birthdate. In less than a month, Mazda would be thirteen, Little Duck’s mom would have been forty-eight. We locked eyes again. Mazda exhaled and rested his head on my shoulder.
My mind flashed back to one of the countless, sleepless nights I spent with baby Mazda. We sat in an overstuffed armchair. I held him closely, his penetrating brown eyes searching mine. Complete silence swirled around us and time stopped momentarily. This, I acknowledged to myself, this is love. As I held this fresh new life, I understood, more completely than ever before, indeed I would not live forever.
A reception immediately followed the service. Mazda left my side, as circles of friends quickly surrounded Little Duck, his brother, and sister. Other moms and I watched from the periphery and witnessed awkward hugs, forced smiles, small chuckles, and not a single “F” bomb. After more than a year, this small band of friends was reunited--a bittersweet rite of passage to learn that memorial services are sometimes the most memorable reunions.
Mazda signaled he was ready to leave and we moved outside, into the bright afternoon sun. Blazer now wrinkled and bowtie askew, he stated clearly, “I know we were talking about a big party for my thirteenth birthday. But I think I want a small party with just Little Duck and my old group. And we should wait a few weeks. Maybe Little Duck will feel like hanging out by then, and he will know everyone at the party.”
I smiled and nodded in agreement. We turned up the sidewalk and squinted into the remainder of the day. Walking next to my son, I felt profoundly grateful to be going home, together. And of course, we had a party to plan.