Ten Things

Terry Ratner, RN, MFA | Sep 9, 2013, 6 a.m.

These are things you know about your son—a son who died when he was 25. They are secrets whispered in the dark, privileged information that you hold on to with all your strength. It’s like a private club with two members celebrating a life cut short—a life that should have more secrets to share with each other. These are 10 things only you know for sure. Parts one and two appeared in the July and August editions of Lovin’ Life After 50, respectively. The final chapter is here.


As a young man, he called to tell you he was sick with the flu. You were concerned and asked him if he had any food in the house.

“No, I haven’t been eating much,” he replied. So you went through your cupboards and put some Malt-O-Meal and graham crackers in a bag. You stopped at the food store and bought him fresh fruit, eggs and juices. Two days later he called you to say, “I have a small infestation of weevils. Thanks Mom.”

He worked out daily. His body was buff and you wondered if he took steroids. He always said “no.” Once he talked you into joining a gym nearby. “A sweet deal,” he called it. You joined and when you went there the following week a sign on the door said, “Closed.”

He asked you for a loan to buy a treadmill. You gave him some money. Two years later, he decided to sell it and you bought it for the original amount.

You don’t have an 11, 12, or any other number for this story. What you wanted to write about is too painful to say, even to think about for longer than a couple minutes. It’s something you did that made a negative impact on him and on his life. It’s a confession of sorts that you’ll eventually talk about, write about and feel freed by reliving the story and understanding how it happened and why it happened. Had he lived, you would have had plenty of opportunity to discuss it with him and hear his take on it and he could listen to why it occurred in the first place.

But it’s too late. You won’t ever be able to talk with him again and even though you rationalize by saying “he took chances” what you really want to say stays with you.

You wanted to write about how he took risks. About the thrill of it, his fascination with fast cars and motorcycles. The delight he took in going from one successful project to another—never staying around long enough to develop it. The stunts he performed for free, like the wheelie he executed so perfectly until he forgot to look, or couldn’t peer over his headlight, or perhaps he was thinking about what he would do after his ride home from the gym.

But the stories stop here. There aren’t any more to tell. You want to write a few more about his adult years. You want to share stories about his college life, the date of his wedding and to whom. You want to talk about his grandchildren and what a great uncle he was to his nieces and nephews. You want to hear him give people “hell” that weren’t being nice to you or his sisters. You want to hear his laughter, see him smiling with that huge grin of his that was mischievous but invigorating at the same time. But that is never going to happen. Of course, you can always imagine how his life turned out. You can picture him as a young man settled down, but at the end of that daydream, you face the truth. You never had the chance to have the conversation you always wanted to have with him. You don’t know what he would have said in response to any of that.

So, there are only 10 things you really know about him.

Terry J. Ratner, RN, MFA is a health educator at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. Visit her website at www.terryratner.com. Send comments to info@terryratner.com.

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