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The Joy And Grief Of Lasts

This is a Mother’s Day visit.

This is a familial Matriarch nearly confined to a prison of a nice recliner. Movement is tough and travel is nearly nonexistent. A life partially wrought by the financial rescuing of a family decades ago with a well-paying but physically taxing union job and partially by genealogy.

An Amazon tablet playing a pimple popper video lies on her chest, a constant companion taking her moment to moment, some dulled by pain and the associated meds, others highly lucid, engaged and one might guess, horrifying.

This is a Son.

A Father.

A Pop.

A couple of tough weeks behind him–most likely brought on by genealogy and years of an American diet. He’s hopeful for a quick transition out of the medicinal fog and weepiness provided by this recent procedure. One of many adults milling around.

He wonders if all the others are also pondering the possibility of this being the last Mother’s Day for this Matriarch. He’s also on high alert due to the dogs who aren’t normally interacting with children.

This is a Girl.

A Daughter.

A Granddaughter.

A Great-Granddaughter.

6-years-old. Finishing her kindergarten year. A super reader. Highly intelligent. A leader. Loves the room if she controls at least her part of it. She doesn’t control any of this. The dogs are seemingly everywhere. Huge beasts to someone her size. She’s not a dog person. She is 100% aware of them but hasn’t figured out that they are only interested in her if she has and is willing to share food or is looking to scratch their ears and make friends. Safety is sitting at the small dining room table playing with magnets with Uncle Matt or standing with Granny or Pop or Daddy.

An inactive old lady in a recliner, in a dog-filled room is scary and not remotely in her wheelhouse. It’s unlikely that she will have any good memories of her paternal Great-Grandmother because of these circumstances and it is completely acceptable, but it makes Pop desperately sad.

This is a Boy.

A Son.

A Grandson.

A Great-Grandson.

3-years-old. A prankster, wrestler, reader. He’s not much of a dog person either but will plan a quick Mario-like route across the room to avoid contact and go. Always ready to go. Uncle Matt has his attention with cookies and magnets.

This is most of us saying goodbye. Many hugs. Many I love you’s.

This is the boy.

The 3-year-old whose parents are always looking for signs that their encouragements of kindness and love are sinking in. He dutifully follows directions towards the Matriarch and willingly steps into her circular cocoon of a chair, oxygen machine, and wheeled carts full of, things, sliding past the leg rest to the armrest. She says, “Goodbye sweetie, I love you.”

This. Boy.

Barely able to have cultivated any relationship with and unlikely to have any memory of her in the years to come, SHOWS. OUT.

For all of humanity, gently placing his hand on her scarred knee and cheerfully saying, “Goodbye Great-Grandma, I love you.”

This is Pop.

Wracked by silent sobs from the moment in time witnessed between his Mom and his Grandson.

He is forever broken. And simultaneously forever grateful to have been right there.

- Mark Johnson


A crib, small bookshelf, and rocking chair sit in a nursery with green curtains
The now-former nursery

The movement of the rocking chair makes the only sound in the room.

It’s the last night this chair will be used in a nursery. The next morning, the chair is relocated to the basement. The crib is deconstructed. It’s no longer a nursery but a 6-year-old girl's new oasis of privacy, free of rowdy brothers.

Wilder moved into Phoenix’s room. Lucia moved out of Phoenix’s room and into her own room.

I’m both not ready for the cuddles in that chair to end and very ready for the next stages of parenthood.

(Did Steph and I both shed some tears? Yes, most definitely.

Will be shedding more tears in the coming weeks as we slog through the boys figuring out how to stop wrestling and finally go to bed in the same room? Yes, most definitely. Parenting is weird!)

What’s the big deal?

It’s just a chair!

Kids are gonna grow up!

You don’t want a baby forever!

Yes yes yes.


How many hours were spent rocking in that chair?

Cuddled up reading just one more book?

Middle-of-the-night nursing sessions?

Rocking silently and peacefully?

These moments of “closure awareness” (Is that a term? It could be now!) hit us in every area of life.

Last year, I packed up the last classroom I’ll teach in. I said goodbye to students who made my last year of teaching my absolute favorite. There was a “last lesson.”

I’ve been watching the show Shrinking on AppleTV+ and it explores the different forms that grief takes. Death, physical decline, becoming an empty-nester, divorce, and other forms of grief pop up in the characters’ lives. But it’s also funny! (No, I swear!) Every single character contributes to the story and the laughs.

The characters force each other to look at the change, feel how they need to feel, and then keep going.

The Many Shapes and Sizes of Grief

Is being done with a nursery true grief? Depends on how you define grief. Since there is a loss–in this case, the loss of an era of parenting–I would argue yes. It’s okay to grieve things beyond tragic life changes. And as Shrinking argues, it’s also okay to laugh in the middle of that grieving.

Maybe your cousin is getting a divorce.

Maybe your youngest kid finished elementary school.

Maybe you got injured and can’t do your favorite forms of exercise.

Maybe your best friend moved hours away or maybe you’re the one who moved.

Maybe your dog is getting old and unable to go on as long of walks as you used to.

Maybe your job changed and you don’t see some of your favorite colleagues much now.

Maybe, as my dad writes about, your parent is declining in health and unable to have the same relationship with the youngest members of the family as they used to.

Grief takes many shapes and comes in many sizes.

In some of them, we know we’re approaching the end of something. Other times, we’re blindsided. Sometimes, we wonder if we're approaching the end but can't be sure.

But I’d argue in most forms, there is a way to find joy or gratitude. Honestly, it’s just the movie Inside Out. That would have been a shorter blog post: “Pixar was right in Inside Out. Joy and Sadness can coexist.” But thanks for sticking with me here!

"Acute Awareness of Passing Time"

I recently read the book Bittersweet by Susan Cain (who also wrote Quiet about introversion–both are fantastic.) She writes:

This book is about the melancholic direction, which I call the “bittersweet”: a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. The bittersweet is also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. “Days of honey, days of onion,” as an Arabic proverb puts it.

“An acute awareness of passing time” makes me nod my head.

My kids are older than they used to be.

My friends are older than they used to be.

My parents are older than they used to be.

My grandparents are older than they used to be.

It’s like trying to watch your hair grow. In your mind, it’s not happening until it obviously is and then you can’t not see it.

Cribs aren’t needed anymore.

Rocking chairs will rock a little less down in the basement. (Until the kids get on it when the grown-ups stay upstairs. Then it will probably rock harder than it’s ever rocked in its life.)

My brother and sister-in-law pointed out that Brad Paisley got in on the topic when he sang, “There’s a last time for everything.”

He sings about “biscuits and gravy at your mama’s house” and “gettin’ woke up at 5 am to see if Santa came.” Oof. Sometimes you know it’s the last time–”closure awareness”--and sometimes you don’t. And if that doesn’t want to make you live harder to love the people you love and do the things you love to do today, right now, then I don’t know what will.

(He also sings, “like tellin’ Supercuts, “Let’s leave it long in the back,”” so sometimes, the last times are a good thing!)

Do I want to go back to that last time in the rocking chair and Wilder whispering, “I wanna wock?”

Yes and no.

Watching him grow up, climb into his “big boy bed,” and navigate the freedom of not being in a crib makes me grin just thinking about it.

The joy and grief of lasts invite us to acknowledge them.

I’m grateful that as joy and grief both stared me down, I was aware of the last time rocking in that chair, soaking in every minute.

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Jun 18, 2023

Goosebumps. The mother's day visit, the nursery chair (to me, that feels like a STAPLE of the Johnson home in my mind so it was sweet to pay mental homage to it as I read), the Inside Out shoutout (I assign that movie as homework at least once a week LOL oops), and lastly, "I wanna wock"....... my eyes are filled up with tears. Maybe it's also partly because my sweet little 8 week old (!!!) baby is asleep in the Mamaroo next to me. It's such a weird time of wishing for the future - please turn 12 weeks old because everyone says that's when sleep is easier - and wanting to pause time and appreciate her tiny eyelids…


Jun 14, 2023

I really feel this and thank you for your words!

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