An anonymous reader writes:
Nobody warned me about this. All those women who laughed it off as they cried at their kids’ mission farewells, as if the tears were a fairly trivial thing compared to the triumph of sending a righteous son into the field. Why didn’t anybody warn me about how wrenching this really is? I am still crying. Do you think it’s something more than just the empty nest syndrome, or is it really supposed to be this hard?
With all five of my children still at home, I am sure I cannot yet appreciate what you are experiencing. But I have had enough glimpses over the past 14 years of parenthood to know that I will not be rushing through a meadow of daisies, rejoicing in my newfound freedom.
After months of promoting kindergarten as one of life ?s greatest pleasures, I trotted my barely five-year-old daughter to the big yellow bus. Her first day of school had been delayed due to Hurricane Andrew, but now she was ready to board at 7:22 A.M. sharp. She climbed on, nearly toppling under the weight of her backpack, and sat near the front. She was so small that only her eyes peered timidly over the window toward me. I waved and smiled and cheered until the bus lumbered out of sight. Then I began to sob.
My little girl was gone. For the next 13 years she was going to spend more waking time at school than at home, and I was sure that I hadn’t done nearly all the things I had planned to do in those five short years.
When she turned nine, I hit another point of parental grief. She was halfway through with her childhood, but I wasn ?t halfway through with her parenting. Where had the time gone? What a journey it had been from the days when I felt I would be sitting on the sofa, topless, curtains drawn, nursing a baby for the rest of my life to the day when I felt like I needed desperately to grab each of my children and pull them back through time so that I could catch up with my intentions.
Yesterday this same daughter went to her first day of early morning (very early morning!) seminary. Another milestone passed. Another time to reflect upon how precious little time we have with each of these blessed spirits. Another moment to realize that the empty nest syndrome comes incrementally to some of us.
With college and missions and marriage and grandchildren looming before me I am filled with both joy and fear. Joy in the anticipation of seeing my children mature and succeed and make choices that please their Father in Heaven. Fear in the anticipation of seeing an empty chair at the dinner table or of not being able to gather all my children around me and feel the sense of peace and security in knowing they are all safe and well.
I suppose that ?s what holidays at Grandma ?s house are for.
Unlike any other profession, the “goal” of motherhood is to make our job obsolete. No golden watch or heady retirement party mark passage into this chapter of life. It is fraught with the symbolic empty room, regrets (some large and some small), and those darn photo and scrap albums poised like Godzilla, waiting to rip the very marrow out of our bones. And just when we think we have those emotions filed neatly under the superscript “No more Tears,” we find a maverick sock under the bed or walk by the tangerines in the fruit section of the market and “poof”…we are vanquished to square one, yet again.
There is true paralysis for a time. This immobility or even emotional “retraction” is much like what happens during an operation. It allows us, like the surgeon, to retract layer after layer of emotional tissue to expose the heart of who we really are. After a period of intense examination (this may take years), we excise, repair or modify what it is we need to be doing for the rest of our lives. But to totally heal from this non-elective surgery is doubtful. I think it is supposed to be that way.
Consider the poignant words of Christ in Isaiah. It is not by whim that He chooses to compare the intense feelings he has for Israel to those of a mother for her child:
Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Isaiah 49:15
What an incredible way to express his passion for the house of Israel! With few exceptions, who indeed, could forget or not have compassion on the son (or daughter) of her womb? Even when our children are absent or have hurt us deeply with errant behavior, it is part of the plan to feel that absence and remember the wayward child.
For those of us who have buried children rather than just saying “farewell” to them for a time, “empty nest syndrome” takes on a completely different meaning. We stumble from minute to minute, clutching a very real knife embedded in the core of our being. We wonder if a second will ever pass without a thought for that child, without the ache of loss, without the questions “What if” or “Why”. Gradually however, a minute may go by, then an hour, then a day without the cold-water splash of rememberance. We have not forgotten the child of our womb, rather the memory has been sweetened with “retraction” and subsequent resolution. A divine memory brings all things sharply into focus. It is the sole hope of all who die and is inscribed on the inside of the Garden Tomb: “He is not here. He is risen.”
From the ashes of our full-time profession as mothers, also rises a true phoenix. It superceeds even the decision as to what to do with the rest of our lives. Though it may take several years to materialize, it can be a source of immeasurable joy and fulfillment. I can think of no greater reward for those who make it through the heartbreak of “empty nest” than a large number of grandchildren to spoil shamelessly.
Ah, wise Jeanie. You’ve provided yet another reason to pursue my fetish of scrapbook-avoidance!
Every step of a child’s emancipation represents change, which means loss as well as gain and grief as well as growth. Grieving doesn’t always get as much attention in our culture as in others, we don’t celebrate or acknowledge the change or loss as much, and I think some moms do feel they are not soldiering along as stoically as they should be. I think the awareness piece of the puzzle could receive a bit more focus.
It helps us if we can try to keep the plan of salvation in perspective. Mortality is short. The empty nest isn’t forever.
Our babies’ infancies seem almost like freeze frame photography. All the heavens and earth seem to stand still for a few days while this boggling drama commands our lives. The clock and calendar are in suspended animation while the baby consumes every breath and every heartbeat.
Each new stage seems miraculous and unprecedented, and every outfit that is suddenly too small is mourned as it is put away for another infant. The time passes too quickly, and we’re sure we should have paid more homage, somehow, to those irretrievable moments now that they are forever lost to us.
The milestones can be terribly sentimental. Moms, as they leave their kindergarteners with their new teachers, are seldom dry-eyed, no matter how perky their smiles and waves. Some don’t even try to fake it, but just let ‘er loose and sob all the way home.
I have marched out to the car and waved goodbye to five of my six kids. If you want to see a grown granny burst into tears as predictably as rainfall in Seattle, just ask for information about any of the kids’ exits out the back gate on their wedding mornings.
I spread a sheet in the car for my daughter, to keep her wedding dress sparkly white, and her Laurel advisor brought her a long stemmed white rose at the crack of dawn.
My oldest son froze bottles of drinking water, tossed them into his desert photo-shoot survival kit, which he had packed and stashed at the back door the night before, and flashed me his white dress shirt under the black suite coat as he galloped away to meet his bride. Attached to his shirt pocket was a yellow “smiley face” button the size of a silver dollar.
Kids are a blessing far too wonderful to describe in words. Tears are required along the way, and they don’t always feel happy. I have consciously reminded myself I am crying because this has been such a joyfully happy experience. It isn’t as if it has vanished. It is still real just in the past tense now. But don’t let it be said I didn’t warn you, if your cherubs are still home. Get out your hankie, OK? And of course you still get to cry after they are gone. You will love them with your dying breath. It’s OK to long for each grown child at each of his or her ages and stages. It’s only that old friend called loss. Loss is our friend. It is the other side of change, and change is the price of eternal progression.
It’s a bargain price, knowing as we do what the plan promises: Nothing short of “together forever.” It’s OK if you don’t feel quite “together” at the weddings, farewells, first days in kindergarten, or first growth spurts past the three-month onesies, with your puffy eyes and red nose. In fact, I think I’ll just sit right down and have a good cry with you. Could you pass me the Kleenex, please?
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5