No going back: Winter is here

Snow is falling outside. Though it is not likely to last, it is a sign:

There is no going back. Winter has arrived.

It is too late to replace the bushes I had wanted to pull out this fall. It is too late to plant more daffodil bulbs.

I have faced "too late" other times this year.

When my beloved mother-in-law, Evelyn, died unexpectedly last summer, it was too late for things I had had to postpone.

I am a devoted tea drinker. But when I visited Evelyn in Germany, I underwent temporary (but very convincing) conversions. I became a coffee drinker for however long the visit lasted. She made the best coffee I ever tasted. In the past five months, I have found myself craving a cup.

In her tiny kitchen, Evelyn and I cooked and baked together. In her living room we knitted sweaters side by side.

To be with Evelyn was to know the essence of the word "homey." I would have liked to have that sort of feeling another time, a last time.

Her death has made me especially conscious of my own life as a mother, and the way it, too, has sped by.

I remember. I am sitting on the battered sofa with my toddler, a book propped between us. Erik holds the front cover; I hold the back one.

Days after Evelyn died, her sister Rita told me Evelyn often said how she missed Ralf, her son, my husband.

Only then did I realize, with a clutch in my heart, what Evelyn's generosity must have cost her. Ralf had left home at 23 to come to me in America. In the next 30 years, she would see him less than once a year.

She never complained about how far away we were.

Erik is 19. I imagine him living far away, just as Ralf did, for a long time. The pain hits right in my sternum.

I would not have Evelyn's strength to bear the loss with grace and patience. I would complain and cry.

Every night we look around in our home at the things Evelyn left us.

Delicate pieces of lace she made by hand. Little wooden figures from her homeland in the Ore Mountains of eastern Germany. (I like the jolly-faced musicians best.) The smoking men whose bellies hold sweet cones of incense so their open mouths can puff contentedly, reflecting thin trails of gray wafting before our dark windows.

The incense cone burns. The smoke thins, curls and goes out.

It is too late for one last meeting. But it is never too late to acknowledge, again, how we loved her. So we do. Every night, Ralf and I say a prayer for Evelyn.

May we all be aware of the time we have now, what our gifts are, how we love now.