Last week I traveled to Indianapolis with my two kiddos. We were surprising my father for his 70th birthday and meeting my nephew Asher for the first time. It was a wonderful trip full of quality time with friends and family, and lots of cuddles with sweet Asher. One afternoon as I relaxed on the couch with my sister as she was nursing, I had a moment of sadness come over me. My mind was flooded with memories of holding my own babies and the endless hours I spent with them close to my breast. All of the late nights I spent in the quiet of my rocking chair watching them sleep by the light of the moon. And inside I wept at the loss of my breasts, the loss of a part of my womanhood. Yes, I have two mounds on my chest where my breasts once sat and for the outside observer all seems normal, but my ability to feed my babies is gone. And it’s not that I was planning on having any more children, because those days too have passed. But it was the realization that I cannot physically ever breastfeed again. And I wanted to remember the last time I held my precious infant son in my arms and nursed him to sleep.

Our lives are full of firsts and lasts. Often the firsts are the things we remember. Firsts are new and special and exciting. The first day of school. The first kiss. The first time we hold our babies in our arms. Firsts have a way of permanently etching themselves into our memory and when recalled can bring a flood of emotion. But lasts often go unnoticed. Lasts are sneaky because we often don’t realize their significance. Yes, some lasts are planned and memorialized; the last day of high school, the last chemo treatment, the last house payment. But more often than not, we don’t even know that it is our last. I often rack my brain to remember the last conversation I had with my brother before he died. I wonder what I said. Was it in person or on the phone? Did I tell him I loved him? Or I think about the last time my mother really knew who I was. Dementia crept in so slowly that the subtle deterioration made knowing the last almost impossible.

And then there are the simple lasts like doing a cartwheel. When was the last time you did a cartwheel? And why did you stop? I remember a conversation I recently had with my grandmother. She had fallen and broken her pelvis and upon healing she had been encouraged by friends and family to stop doing certain things.  She said to me, “Heather, everyone wants me to stop walking out to my garage to do my laundry, but you know what, I’m not ready to give up doing my laundry. I’m afraid if I do, it will be the last time I ever do laundry and I’m not ready for that.” And while many of us would give anything to never do another load of laundry, I perfectly understood her sentiment. Because so many things in life just disappear without note.  We often don’t even realize that they are gone. Sometimes we just stop doing something by choice, and other times things are taken from us. So after my conversation with my grandmother I wondered about what in my life I had stopped doing and why. For some reason doing a cartwheel came to mind so I went to my yard and did a cartwheel. And it hurt! I think I pulled a few muscles in my legs, but I did it. And I promised myself that every so often I will do a cartwheel, because I’m just not ready for it to be my last.

I wonder how different our lives would be if we thought more about lasts? I wonder how our relationships would change if we didn’t take time for granted? If you knew it was the last time you would kiss your spouse good-bye, how would it change your kiss? If you knew it was the last time you would see your mother, what would you want to say? If you knew it was the last time your child would sit on your lap because they were growing up too fast, would you hold them a little tighter? If you knew it was the last time your daughter asked you to play barbies would you play differently? If you knew it was the last time you would nurse your precious baby, would you sit a little longer?

Of course, the pace of life does not often lend itself to this type of reflection. We spend most of our days running from one thing to the other. And it often takes something hard, something tragic, to wake us up and realize our lasts. Just this past week a childhood friend of mine died suddenly from a heart attack. He was only 47 years old.  When I received the text I just stood in shock and disbelief. I don’t know the last time we actually spoke. I’m thankful that Facebook kept us connected even while living hundreds of miles apart. But his death made me think once again about lasts. And what I finally have concluded is that it is really about living intentionally and in the moment.  Because when you live in light of lasts, it makes you want to be intentional with your time and your relationships. It makes clear what is most important in life. It makes you want to be present for the people right in front of you. It makes you want to keep doing the things you love and push yourself harder to do things that are challenging. It makes you appreciate the little things. It makes you want to hold your baby to your breast a little longer and savor a kiss with your love. It makes you want to do a cartwheel in the grass, even if you pull a few muscles. It even makes you want to pick up your laundry basket and head to the garage, simply because you are thankful you can.

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