I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me.
But I have to begin nearly twenty years back, during my mother's last illness.
Our family had a glass-fronted hutch in the living room, in which the "best" china and glassware were displayed. They were never used, because no occasion was ever festive or momentous enough to justify bringing them out of their glassed-in sarcophagus.
One day, my wife began removing the precious items from the hutch and marching them into the kitchen, placing them in the cupboards with the everyday dishes. After a couple of trips, my mother joined her, the two of them forming a little parade of crockery. "What am I waiting for?" my mother asked. "My next life?" We began putting the "best" things to their intended use that very evening.
I wasn't there when my mother died. I took my leave on a Friday afternoon for a weekend performing out of state. As I assured her that I would be back to see her on Monday, she appeared to have a rare lucid interval, her widened eyes intensely blue in her pale face as she shook her bald head, no longer able to speak but clearly saying "no." When I again promised to return on Monday, she took my right hand in hers, raised it to her lips, and kissed it.
I wonder how much of me understood that, knowing she would not survive the weekend, my mother was saying goodbye to me. Not too much, I hope; certainly not the parts closest to the surface. My capacity for self-deception is titanic, but I'd like to hope that I had no conscious awareness that I was seeing my mother alive for the last time, that I wasn't pushing the thought away because I didn't want to deal with it.
People die, and we think we get over it, but we never do. Grief goes into remission, perhaps for years, but some chance association can bring it roaring back at any time. Usually it's bittersweet, as when I see glimpses of my mom in my own two girls, and wish she could have met these children whom she would have loved so much. But sometimes it's like a blow, a shot to the gut that says, "The good dishes were ready, but you weren't."
The people we love are forever with us, and there's no knowing when circumstances will throw the loss of them into stark relief.
Life is short; use the good bowl.