06/20/2013 11:47 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

What James Gandolfini's Son Learned Last Night

"But what if I don't come back?" I sobbed to my husband before a long ago business trip. "What if I am lying to him about that?"

I was new at this parenting thing then, and leaving my son involved lots of reassurance (who exactly was I reassuring?) that "Mommies always come back."

But sometimes we don't. Sometimes we can't protect them with promises. And at the worst of times that reality is particularly stark, the lesson cruel even beyond the harsh truth that parents can die. Sometimes you are a teenage boy, who is celebrating his middle school graduation on a special "guy's trip" with your Dad, and you find him collapsed and unresponsive in a bathroom. You are the one who calls for help. And the fact that the rest of the world mourns the news with you does little to mute the horror of the moment.

My heart goes out to young Michael Gandolfini, who became a grown-up in a Rome hotel room last night.

Also to 8-month-old Liliana, who can't possibly understand why Daddy didn't come back.

"Yes, it's a lie," my husband answered way back when.

But it's one they deserve to believe.