\r\n\r\nMy son asks a lot about dying these days. Maybe it\u2019s a five-year-old thing, like learning basic addition and how to swim, or maybe it\u2019s because a primal family member has been staring down death for the past year. \u201cMama bear, are you ever going to die?\u201d\r\n\r\nSometimes he tears ups. Sometimes it\u2019s in the exact same tone that he asks me whether unicorns are real or if we can spend travel to the Jurassic period for the weekend.\r\n\r\nMy birthday weekend I felt urgency to ensure his summer contains some good memories by the time he starts kindergarten, that it wasn\u2019t all about working and visiting and saying good-byes.\r\n\r\nDespite the forecast for thunderstorms, I loaded up our tandem kayak with camping gear. I\u2019d made the reservation for a boat-in campsite at Lake Jocassee for this coveted weekend months ago, carving it out as sacred fun time with my son. We paddled across Lake Jocassee with another mountain mama and her little girl during a break in the clouds, arriving at the campsite on the other side of the lake. As if to welcome us, the clouds opened, rain warm pelting us.\r\n\r\nWe decided to wait until the storm passed to unpack our boats.\r\n\r\nMy son wore rain pants and a persimmon red raincoat. He jumped off a rock and canon-balled into the now milky green lake, beckoning me to join him.\r\n\r\nI shook my head, telling him that I didn\u2019t want to get my clothes wet\r\n\r\n\u201cBut mama, they already are,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt was logic I couldn\u2019t refute, so I jumped in after him. Laughing more than I had in the entire past month. It rained harder. We swam and dove, splashing each other and floating on our backs.\r\n\r\nIt was the most fun I could remember having until we got cold. We were wearing the warmest layers we had. That\u2019s when it set in that the rain wasn\u2019t stopping. The campsites were flooded, and the gravel pads where we were supposed to set up our tents were one big puddle. Our tarp was useless against the day-long onslaught of rain.\r\n\r\nSo later that night when other campers offered us a ride to the other side of the lake in their motorboat, we jumped on it. We left our kayak and canoe, still full of our camping gear, and sped across the lake at midnight just as the rain was letting up.\r\n\r\nThe next day, refreshed after a night\u2019s sleep at my house, we returned. Late that afternoon the rain returned and I second-guessed my decision. Then the sky cleared.\r\n\r\nMy son and I sat near the lake, inhaling the clean scent the rain leaves behind, somehow metallic and earthy all at once. The fog lifted, revealing the sun that had been there all along, just out of sight behind the clouds.\r\n\r\nThe lake was quiet, the kind of stillness required to take in the beauty of a whole life, and I thought about what I knew about my dad\u2019s childhood. For a minute I stopped resisting the thought that lurked just outside my every thought. My dad was dying.\r\n\r\nI wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. I also wanted to provide my son with normalcy, and ground myself in a successful work life. To do all the things, and be all the versions of myself that were possible and felt guilty the times and ways I hadn\u2019t showed up. It was an impossible desire of course.\r\n\r\nIn that moment on the bank of the lake I stopped being anyone at all, I just sit and watch the setting sun.\r\n\r\nHe piled crystals he found and then leaves and twigs. \u201cMama, for your birthday I\u2019m giving you your favorite thing. Nature!\u201d He beamed at me.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the only gift I received that weekend, because I didn\u2019t tell anyone it was my birthday. Part of me secretly hoped that if I didn\u2019t recognize my birthday. I\u2019d stay forty-two, my son would stay a five-years old, and my dad would stay dying, but at least not dead.\r\n\r\n\u201cMama, do you like your gift?\u201d My little boy pressed a rock into my palm.\r\n\r\nI grabbed him into a hug. \u201cIt\u2019s the perfect gift.\u201d\r\n\r\nI wanted to take it home, to hold on to it, but leaves don\u2019t travel well and the rocks belonged to the land. There was no holding on to any of it, my son\u2019s pile of nature heaped at my feet, his five year old self, me being forty-two, or my dad\u2019s mortality. There was only letting go.\r\n\r\nThat night my son and I camped alone, and I woke up to my forty-third birthday in a dry tent on a sunny day. We I paddled to waterfalls, slid down rocks, and ate marshmallows smothered in peanut butter until our bellies ached.\r\n\r\nAs we paddled back, I reflected on the weekend, how I\u2019d always remember swimming in the rain fully clothed and getting a boat ride on a moonless night. I watched my paddle drip, creating patterns onto the lake\u2019s surface and felt gratitude for last night\u2019s sunset, for it\u2019s lesson that there was beauty everything, even in fading and letting go.