…On the last night of his leave [just before his deployment to Iraq], as the house slept in surreal stillness, I paced about, pausing at the doorway of Daniel’s room, and listening to his breathing. How could he sleep? How many times had I gone to his room to listen to him breathe when he was an infant? And how many times had I tiptoed in to stroke the smooth curve of his baby head or gently kissed the blanketed mound of his little behind?

…I ached to say, “Son, I have been blessed to have you for these twenty-one years. I love you so much. I am so scared I will lose you.”

Afraid he would retort “Gee, Mom, cut it out!” I had forced the words back down my throat. I knew he would view such “last words” as melodramatic and might even worry they could jinx him. Besides, I knew I would be unable to utter them without weeping; the heaviness of suppressed feelings burdened me.

Drawn to my sewing room by its amber halo of lamplight, I rocked back and forth on my couch, struggling to stifle the keening that threatened to erupt from my throat. I was so sentimental that night that when I spied Daniel’s stinky athletic shoe, I cradled it to my chest.

… I tried not to stare as I focused throughout the day on Daniel’s face, memorizing his features. The three moles across his left cheekbone. The bristles at the nape of his “high and tight” regulation haircut. The “tribal” tattoo on his lower leg. The way he smirked when he played a joke on me.

…It was Daniel who suggested, “Why don’t we do something as a family? Why don’t we go the movies?”

That suggestion triggered a noisy debate. Our children couldn’t agree which movie to see: one film was too silly for some; others objected that a different one was too violent… In the end Daniel’s suggestion won, and we saw Miracle, a film about the US Hockey Team winning the Gold Medal in the 1980 Olympics. Daniel’s suggestion was actually a very wise way of distracting us, providing an entertaining—even inspirational—diversion and a chance for one final family memory.

All too soon it was time to make the ninety-mile trip to the airport. I stared out of the car window into the rainy and miserable darkness, tears coursing silently down my cheeks. Daniel played CDs in the car, filling the gaps of strained silence.

Once Daniel had checked in at the airline counter, we sat in the waiting area. The gloom pressed in on us. I didn’t want Daniel to go, but I wanted the moment of goodbye to be over with. After shifting in our chairs for several moments, my husband suggested, “Daniel, this isn’t going to be any better; we might as well go now.”

We stood, each of us giving Daniel a bear hug. I was the last to take my turn. I squeezed him and finally released him—only to clutch him again.

“Don’t cry. Don’t cry,” repeated the mantra in my head. It was futile. Though Daniel managed to keep his composure, tears rode down my cheek and trickled under my nose. Breaking away from me, Daniel turned and floated up the escalator. With mounting despair, I locked my eyes on his back, trying to memorize what might be my last glimpse.

He did not look back.