Launching A Child

Woman-saying-goodbye-FarewellMy sister-in-law questioned my sincerity when I texted that I was having fun moving my eldest daughter into college for the first time. All bets were on me coming apart at the seams.

I had given ample indication of emotional fragility in preparation for this momentous occasion. In the weeks following high school graduation, a song on the radio, a memory jogged while driving past a playground…anything, or nothing, could turn me to mush instantaneously. The world conspired against me, it seemed. How else to explain the untimely (or timely) arrival of an email from a photo-sharing site titled, ‘Your life 7 years ago’ which showed images of my college Freshman in elementary school. Cruelty, I say.

The fact that college move-in day landed on my birthday heightened my self-pity. ‘Worst birthday present ever,’ I grumbled. But my conscience was having none of it. Just days before, I was informed of a local high school graduate who had died in an accident. His mother, I realized, wouldn’t be able to transition her son to the next phase of life. In solidarity with this mother, I vowed to enjoy the privilege before me.

Kahlil Gibran says that children never belong to us. They only come through us. I’ve had to remind myself of this countless times in my parenting history. The urge to hold onto the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me is, at times, intense. But as the wise Dory says in Finding Nemo, “If you don’t let anything happen to ‘em, nothing will ever happen. No fun for Nemo.”

I have sent away a girl of eighteen years who, in my heart, might as well be four again; for the way I felt in separating from her was no less shocking. Dear ones have been asking how I’m doing. Impossible to answer. I’m ‘doing’ every emotion known to humanity, and have yet to land on a description that encapsulates the sensation of launching a beloved child.

My heart reaches out to every parent I crossed paths with on campus – the mother struggling to hold herself together, the parents at the pub drowning their stress, and the fathers – more than one – who were victimized by a phenomenon that Husband dubbed, ‘Dad-Shaming.’ Students, succumbing to the frenzy of the occasion, would periodically scream at their well-meaning fathers in public. “Dad! I know that! Let me do it! Leave me alone!!!!!”

In the next several years, these college students will morph into young adults. When they return, we will have to get acquainted with them all over again, leaving space for the child-cum-stranger whose tastes and manners may be grossly unfamiliar.

Meanwhile, we will be learning a new parenting style, conducted from afar and constructed on a whole new set of rules. We will love from a distance, always hoping, but never quite knowing, if it will be enough. We will worry and encourage and pray our way through it. And at the end of the college experience, we will wonder, as we do now, how did it go so fast?

On Children


Do It Well

Today’s daily inspirational email advised ‘Whatever you do today, do it well.’  Today I had to attend a funeral.

How does one do a funeral well?  Cry more?  Cry less?  In my experience, one doesn’t do funerals at all.  Funerals are done to you.

General sentiment was one of relief that my aunt had finally been freed from her torturous body.  But the joy for the deceased cannot obscure the sorrow of those left behind.  I gazed at the massive hole in the cemetery ground and thought, ‘there is not dirt enough on the planet to fill in the hole left by the departure of a dear one.’

Hugs and kisses and condolences greet me at the door of the funeral home.  I am both relieved and guilty to be in the arms of family seen only at marriages and deaths.  And I’m grateful for the rituals that force us together when we’ve failed to sustain connections otherwise.

Together, we bolster each other, forming a collective cocoon around Auntie’s closest family – the ones who risk the greatest sorrow.  Our unspoken promise is to hold tight and not let go.  Fall here and we’ll catch you.  You are safe in our arms.  Take what you need from our open hearts.  And fall they do, spilling open with abandon.  Love and sorrow are one voice intertwined.

After all these years, I learn things I didn’t know about the woman who held me at the altar of God at birth and pledged to help my parents watch over me.  Her life is no longer a still shot but a panoramic movie.  A motion picture in which she is the star.  And here we are, her supporting cast, applauding her as she accepts her final award.  She is center stage and has never appeared more perfect.

The bittersweet sound of church bells unleashes my tears.  A song pleads, ‘Hold me close God.’  Yes, God, please do.  Because I feel myself unraveling.  The world is suddenly unfamiliar.  Someone important is missing.

The clock in my world has stopped, yet the people outside of my circle carry on, oblivious that the world is forever changed.  They watch, unaffected, and perhaps even annoyed as our processional of cars slides by.  I gaze into their strange eyes willing them to pause and commend Auntie to Heaven with a prayer of their own.

It’s hard to guess when the healing will come.  It will be different for each of us.  Healing is not to be demanded.  It must be invited and allowed to arrive in its own time, after it has negotiated its way past the darkness.

For now, I wait.  I am at once drained and replete.  It’s as if I am a bottle that has been emptied of its contents and scrubbed out with a brush that reached deep inside.  Empty but clean.  Ready to fill again.

I vow anew to live more consciously and to love more fully so that I may fill myself this time with only the things that really matter.  This, I know, is a promise I will make a thousand times over.  It is my own repeating death and resurrection story.

Returning to this morning’s instructions to ‘do it well,’ I maintain this as an impossibility where funerals are concerned.  But if by this statement one is meant to be present to life and death, to open to vulnerability, and to give from the most sincere part of one’s heart, then yes, I did it well.  And I have an Auntie to thank for it.

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