My siblings and I decided not to get gifts for each other this year so we could focus on making Christmas morning extra special for Cole, Peyton and Harrison, but when I was home for Thanksgiving last month I found a picture in my parents' iPhoto Library that made me smile and I decided to have copies made and framed for my folks and my siblings anyway. Yesterday everybody opened my gift at the same time and when my dad got his unwrapped he looked at it for a moment and, because he was the one who had taken it, shared a bit of its backstory.
"I took this picture a little more than two years ago on a hike up to the top of Madonna Mountain in San Luis Obispo, California," he said. "It was October and your mom and I were on a road trip to San Francisco to visit Corey and we decided to stop at several spots along to the way to hike and take pictures. We had just retired from our jobs a few months before that trip. We were on top of the world."
There was a long silence in the living room after he spoke that last sentence and then my mom shattered it with a big, loud sob and the rest of us quickly joined her. For a moment I felt guilty for being the one to cause so many tears on a morning that was already hard enough given the circumstances, but then my mom steadied herself, took a deep breath and said in the broken, difficult-to-understand voice that ALS has made hers, "I feel like I have it all."
Nobody said anything for a little while after that, but I hope she knew that our silence was just us agreeing with her and that we were crying because she was crying and also because when you've had it all you're scared as hell to let it go.