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  • Tracy N. Coley

First love. A love for always.

Bekkah was Nick’s first love. And in all her denial, she loved him too, adoringly at a distance.

Like most kids with special needs, Nick had a lot of love to give, his heart almost too big to fit in his towering stature. But his love for Bekkah was particularly special. Nick and Bekkah were connected in the way that only best friends can experience love.

This weekend I received the news that we lost Nick, 22. Profound sadness oozed from the wounds of my grief once again. Losing Nick meant I also lost another piece of Bekkah.

For the last eight years I’ve followed Nick and Bekkah’s other friends through their teachers’ Facebook posts and by their schools’ Friends Helping Friends Club. Bowling, summer camp, baseball games and trips to the state capital illumined with smiling faces of the kids with special needs and their buddies. For all the ills of social media, I’m grateful for keeping track of long-time friends, even when unexpected tragedy appears on my newsfeed.

As a woman who lost her teeenaged daughter in 2013, this tragedy reverberates deep within me. Women are built to withstand painful childbirth, but nothing ever prepares a mother for the egregious pain of losing her child. This kind of loss makes the strongest mothers buckle at their knees, whether they are walking in the deepest religious faith or don’t believe in anything at all.

I think belief in life after death can provide grieving mothers with the smallest hope and comfort that our children are somehow in a better place, especially for those children who suffered before death. If we don’t have hope, we are destined to shrivel up in fetal position and die right along with them.

I’ve been challenged lately to consider the notion of heaven. Some believe heaven is a mystical place in the clouds where harp-holding angels sing and judgment is cast upon on us as we meet our maker. Who truly knows what happens when we die? I like to think that we are privileged as humans to create heaven right here, where we are in our present day. Humans are pre-conditioned to judge others, but I also believe we are capable of connecting with others through love that can last an eternity, for as long as we are open to hold that love.

My greatest fear when Bekkah died was forgetting her voice, her smell, her laugh. Even after eight years, I’m relieved to have lost none of those pieces of her. Each of these is very distinct and retrievable at any moment, in part because I am still her mother. Because I am her mother and carried her in my womb for nine months, our souls are infinitely connected through love.

Although I don’t really know Nick’s mother, I feel Lola’s wretched heartache. That piercing, hitched breath of fresh grief is unforgettable. She can take comfort in knowing that her son’s love—his smile, his laugh, his gentle spirit—will be part of her for as long as she lives.

A child’s first love is their mother. And a mother’s love for her child is for always. That, I believe, is heaven in its purest form in the present tense.

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