Tomorrow Is Not Promised

Tomorrow Is Not Promised

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Tomorrow Is Not Promised

Walking would save my sanity. I just knew it. The hope of escaping lunacy prompted me to drag my exhausted, grief-stricken limbs out of bed each morning and hike to keep walls from closing around me. As I trod toward a nearby park, I replayed the events of the prom-night loss of my son, Shawn, to a drunk driver. Other thoughts strayed to a favorite quote from an assistant-principal friend. After the loss of both his parents within one year, he often reminded me that “tomorrow is not promised.” Nothing in my life’s story of stress and challenge as an urban high-school principal had prepared me for this tragedy. If only I had spent more time with my son prior to May 1. If only I had been more tolerant of his maturation process during his senior year.

My admiration and enjoyment of other families’ relationships with their children had turned to bitterness and anger. Why were their children still here to enjoy and my child so forever gone? This truth brought my steps to the edge of the park where a young Shawn had flapped his arms in a swimming pool and launched his skinny hiney down a slide. I watched a father and two small children. They ran as only excited youth can run—with total abandonment— across the mud and grass of the park toward playground equipment.

A bright new BMW was the only car in the parking area. Withdrawing into my thoughts, memories of my son returned, and I tramped on, vainly attempting to find comfort in the flowers and sunshine of a spring day. When reaching the corner where I planned to stop and head home, my body turned as if on autopilot, and with lagging footsteps I passed the park again. Playtime was over. The children and dad moved toward the new Beemer.

The father’s voice rose a shrill octave when he yelled directions at the smaller boy, “Son, don’t run across the wet ground. You’ll get mud all over Daddy’s new car.”

My hands itched to grab him by the neck and throttle him until he became a symbol for shaken-adult syndrome. Didn’t he know the importance of time spent with those two small children? Weren’t the treasured memories they would build together worth more than the cost of vacuuming out a little mud? My fantasies grew as I rehearsed a myriad of biting words to arrest his attention and cause him to rethink his approach. None of the words reached my lips. I hiked past the park and back home.

The experience served as directive to my grief-stricken heart. I had two choices on handling the rest of my life. I could serve as a watchdog when witnessing parent-child problems of this nature—issuing stern warnings of future consequences; or I could pursue a softer approach by urging parents to spend more quality time with their children. I chose the latter.

A clearer understanding of my anger and jealousy— concerning parenting situations—began to emerge. I realized the foolishness of resenting others’ relationships with their children. They had not caused my loss. A drunk driver and my son’s decision to leave the safety of his hotel were the culprits. How could I resent time others spent with their kids regardless of weak parenting skills? Grieving for loss of time spent with my son didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy theirs. Grabbing this new reality by the throat resulted in a new dimension of walking through hot coals of guilt and anguish.

Attempts to analyze each new parenting situation began to bear fruit. I realized my words today carried the added weight of a grieving mother. Now when friends complained of problems with their teenagers, I attempted to give solace and understanding. Communicating stories of my own soul-searching through similar problems became the norm, instead of caustic be-glad-you-still-have-them words.

The greatest progress made in my healing quest occurred two years later when addressing junior- and senior-high church youth groups prior to prom week. Telling my story in the hope of saving a youngster’s life did more for me than for them. Interacting with each bunch prior to the meeting quenched some of my thirst for quality time. Receiving their warm hugs afterwards gave me comfort beyond measure.

My husband and I sat at a local Sonic drive-in enjoying a Sunday evening hamburger. We watched a picnic table where a young family ate burgers with their two small children. The older child bore a strange resemblance to our son at age six.

Hyperactive, with small cheeks stuffed with fries, he quickly got into trouble. We tuned in to the event when we heard him whine, “Please Daddy, I promise to be good.” The father smiled and gave him another chance.

Turning to my husband in the car I said, “Doesn’t that sound like Shawn at that age? ”We couldn’t resist playing peek-a-boo with him. He joined into the rhythm of the activity, miming faces and hiding behind his kid-meal sack. His parents seemed to enjoy the game as much as we did.

For just a moment the old resentments flared to see a child so full of life, and I gulped back the sob forming in my chest. But grief homework from the last few months held me in check. Words of my assistant-principal friend galloped through my mind. Tomorrow is not promised. The promise of tomorrow thrives with helping others.

Rita Billbe

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