“I’m sure the next the next chapter will be wonderful but I’m going to need to linger a bit on this one before I can turn the page.”
–message from a friend whose daughter left for college last weekend
There is much I would like to be able to write about what I’ve learned in the past few weeks as I’ve been letting go of my daughter. It’s too close, though, and my feelings too raw, for me to begin sorting all the thinking I’ve been doing into a clear, coherent post.
I can offer this, though:
We don’t allow enough messiness in our culture. We want things–especially feelings–to be simple, clean, and neat, but living fully is not conducive to tidiness.
This experience of sending my daughter 3,000 miles away into the beginning of her life apart from me–it is messy, and ragged, and complex. I am a big, hot, tangled mess of emotions these days: elation, gratitude, sorrow, regret, longing, hope, relief, pride, joy, loneliness, love.
The day she left, these feelings knocked me to the floor–literally–but I keep reminding myself of the words I’ve offered to others in their grief:
The size of the pain is commensurate with the size of the love.
If the size of my feelings is any indicator, well…my love for my child is bigger than anything I’ve known. And what it’s been looking like lately, in concrete terms, is some mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime:
Picture me the day after she leaves, making myself go to the gym (because exercise makes us feel better! Right?) and feeling a dull, achey missing-her because the gym reminds me of all the yoga/pilates classes Grace took with me when she was working on an alternate PE credit and how I laughed and laughed at her half-assed poses and the way she went to bathroom every. single. time during the first pilates track.
If you were there you’d see me doing OK, holding it together despite my sadness, until the song about loving you for a thousand years comes on, and then there I am, losing it in child’s pose as I hear
Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
and I’m stuck there long after everyone else has transitioned to down dog because I don’t want anyone to see the tears dripping onto my smelly yoga matt while I tell myself to breathe, breathe, breathe.
Later, at home (after tearing up, again, in the produce section of the grocery store when I realize I won’t need to buy as many apples any more) I look up the lyrics to the whole song and watch the video (because the song’s chorus is now stuck on repeat in my head) and learn for the first time that the song is from a Twilight movie and it’s about Bella and Edward’s stupid vampire love–which, of course, lasts for 1,000 years because they never, ever die–and I think about how I got all torn up over a vampire love song (which could have ominous symbolism if I think too hard about it) and how Grace would roll her eyes at all of this and remind me of how awesome it was when my mother and I took her to a Twilight marathon that culminated in a midnight premiere at which 1,000 (or so) tween girls on Team Jacob squealed deliriously every time he took off his shirt (which he did about a thousand times).
This is the kind of thing I’ve been keeping to myself not only because it’s strange and embarrassing, but also because in response to expressing the harder emotions I’ve been feeling–my sorrow, my fear, my regret–I have been given the message, more than once, with good intentions, I know, that I should be grateful, that I should feel good because it is time for this to happen, because my daughter has great opportunities, because her success means I’ve done a good job being her parent.
True, every word. I am, and I do. But.
It’s not helpful, and it feels like the world wants me to just move along, and I’M NOT READY TO.
The raw, howling grief I felt in the first hours after her departure is waning–though it continues to flare unexpectedly–and while part of me is grateful for the relief, there is another part of me that wants to hold on to it, does not want to feel it subside, does not want to go gentle into any kind of parenting good night.
That deep, unreal, this-can’t-really-be-happening sorrow feels like shit, to be sure, but it also feels holy. It feels like a testament to having fully loved with every single part of my being. It feels like some kind of honoring of the deep bond I’ve shared with my daughter over more than 18 years.
I get that we will still have a bond that transcends time and distance, but we are leaving behind the life that nurtured it. That bond did not live in the big, shiny, occasional moments we shared–the holiday dinners, the award ceremonies, the vacations and birthday parties and special treats. It grew over years of day-to-day, mundane, sometimes difficult, intimate moments that only those who live together experience.
And we won’t be doing that any more.
Why would I easily let this kind of connection go? Why should we think that such a gift can or should be quickly and neatly packed up and put away?
Beth Berry, who writes the blog Revolution from Home, just wrote a beautiful post about resisting the messages to “bounce back” after giving birth. In it, she says:
The very notion that we are meant to change as little as possible, and even revert back to the women we were before we became mothers is not only unrealistic, but it’s an insult to women of all ages, demographics, shapes, and sizes. It makes a mockery of the powerful passage into one of the most essential roles a human can live into…
When my children arrived they completely altered the shape of my days–which altered the shape of my life. Their presence transformed every part of it. Why, then, wouldn’t their leaving do the same?
Why am I feeling ashamed to be so profoundly impacted by it, as if my inability to just be happy and move on means that I’m somehow weak or our relationship too close to be healthy? My children’s birth was a profound experience, and the one I’m having now–of letting go of what we’ve been, of entering into a new life that will reshape both of us, again–is profound, too. And profound experiences should not, I think, be rushed.
So, like my friend, I am going to linger. I will not be bouncing back, and that is OK. It is OK to be the kind of mess I have been–just like it is fine to keep wearing maternity clothes in the weeks after giving birth and go days without showering and cry because your baby’s fingernails are just so exquisite–because the whole thing is overwhelming and that’s all you can manage to do. It is OK because, just as it was during that first monumental transition, we are never going to be what we once were, but we are all going to be OK.
Just not right away. Like my friend, I need a bit more time before I can dive into the next chapter. I’m going to take it.