Lingering

“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

Photo on 2010-05-21 at 20.30

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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18 thoughts on “Lingering

  1. Kari says:

    First, you are really lucky (and I mean this in the best possible way) that you have so many pictures of you and your daughter together.
    You “got in the picture” and that is amazing.
    I don’t have many of those because I was always the one taking the picture.

    Friend, take your time grieving.
    Let it be messy and not at all in a little box with a bow.
    It is HARD when your children leave and we shouldn’t be pushed to get over it or to make it happy for others.
    It sucks, plain and simple.
    If I had my way, I would never let my girls leave me but I won’t have my way and in two years, I will need your support to get through this hard time.

    I am here for you.
    Not actually but virtually and any time you need to cry so hard you are blubbering?
    I will listen.
    I love you.
    Kari recently posted…Why I Fired My “Assistant”My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kari. It’s easy to get in the picture when you live with a guy who teaches photography. 🙂
      Two years from now, you put me on speed dial.
      I think the blubbering is mostly done. Random tears that come out of nowhere? Still here. I’m OK with moving past blubbering. And thankful I never took anyone out while doing it in the car.
      Love you, too.

  2. Diane says:

    Rita, your thoughts and feelings are so true of this kind of transition. My daughter went to college in our hometown at the university where I work–which was a wonderful gift in its own way. She lived in a dorm on campus her first year (literally right down the street from us) and in a house with 3 other girls for her sophomore, junior, and senior years. She had her own life, but we met for lunch, and she raided our refrigerator. She and her best friend pulled into our driveway at random times, always beeping the horn to announce their arrival. Best of all, we met for evening walks in all kinds of weather from 90-degree sultry summer evenings to dark 20-degree winter nights. She left for a year after graduation and then came back for graduate school. The first walk I took after she moved to Baltimore for good–for a “real” job–absolutely knocked me off my feet. I walked up the street where we usually met, expecting her to jump out from behind a tree (a typical Christine antic), but she wasn’t there. It was awhile before I could walk that way again without crying.

    • Rita says:

      Grace’s choice came down to the school 3,000 miles away and one in our hometown. I would have loved the hometown school, just so we could do the kinds of things you write about here. But the other one has more opportunities for her. I did get to have her at the school I work in for the last 3 years, and that was wonderful. We definitely each had our own lives in that place, but it was great to have her pop in for a quick minute between classes or go out for the occasional lunch. Her absence is creating a hole not just in our home life, but it my work life, too. We go back next week, and I know it’s going to feel really different without her there.

      Thanks for writing. As with anything hard, it really does help to hear from others who’ve been there.

  3. Kate says:

    Love that you are honoring the feelings and not pushing them aside because society wants it to be neat, and tidy, and happy.

    And I love this line: “…living fully is not conducive to tidiness.”

    Thanks for a good read this morning. It makes me sad that I can’t call my mom and ask her how she felt when I went away to college.

    • Rita says:

      Ah, I wish you could make that phone call, too. And wish I could make it to your GriefRites reading this weekend. Thank you for reading.

  4. Tina says:

    Three years out, and I still cry every time I have to say goodbye to Keenan. Good for you for supporting Grace’s dreams, and supporting her going to a university 3000 miles away. Start using that credit card for mileage points! Will be thinking about you!

    • Rita says:

      I remember you writing just a bit about what it was like when Keenan left for college. I didn’t get it then. I do now. And I’m now understanding why my mom gets teary every time we say good-bye. Dang, mothering isn’t for wimps, is it?

  5. Shannon McBride says:

    Rita – It’s Shannon McBride, Emma Waibel’s mom (100th RF Queen), we met at Grace’s coronation. Thank you for this post!!! I’ve been melancholy for the last three days, ever since Emma left for her sophomore year at Pepperdine. It certainly hasn’t been as bad as it was her first year but I’m am still lingering, two years later, and yes it sucks! Still working on redefining our new relationship. It’s so hard to get other people to relate, I get the same, “You should be happy for her!” “You are empty nesters now, go have some fun!” I am happy for her, and we are having fun, but I miss her tremendously.

    This is exactly how I feel. I miss the mundane. I miss the every day interactions and the moments in the car on the way to some appointment. I just miss seeing her face, everyday, still.

    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.

    I just wanted to reach out and say thank you. You have eloquently stated what I have not been able to put into words. BTW, Emma eats massive amounts of apples too! I had a similar break down in a grocery store. Thank you again, with a few tears in my eyes, Shannon.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, Shannon, of course I remember meeting you! And thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one feeling this way. (Although it sucks to learn it might still be really hard a year from now.) I know I’m anticipating missing the ordinary activities because those are the things I’ve missed most about living away from my own parents. And my favorite moments with Grace were just the kind you name: talking while riding in the car, watching a TV show together, chatting after dinner. And SO glad to know I’m not the only one crying in the grocery store! 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to reach out.

  6. Kate says:

    I spent at least 10 minutes blubbering in my car when I dropped Violet off for camp this summer (and it wasn’t even a full week!!), I can’t imagine what it must feel like to send your daughter off to college completely cross country.

    It also seems to me that if you’re going to cry anywhere, yoga and the grocery store are perfectly good places. Yoga is all about accepting you where you’re at and what mom hasn’t cried at least once in a grocery store? (I, personally, feel like if this is the first time you’ve lost control of your emotions in a grocery store you are WAY ahead of the game on this motherhood stuff.)

    As for the all the “you’ve done your job… blah, blah, blah” (guilty!!), chalk it up to all of us (or at least me) really wanting to say, “We don’t get it yet. We will. Or maybe we won’t, but we’re trying really, really hard in our own way to be supportive. We don’t mean to negate your feelings. Feel them and share them and we’ll be there to support you in whatever way we can. We’re just clueless.”

    Finally, I LOVE your pictures with your daughter! You have such an amazingly expressive face and you scream “mom love” in every single one of them!

    • Rita says:

      Oh, Kate–I’ve never felt anything less than supported by anyone. Please don’t feel guilty! And you know, I think it’s really hard to understand someone else’s loss if you haven’t had the same kind. My friend Tina (also on this comment thread) told me it was hard when her daughter left, and I just didn’t get it. I tried to imagine it, and I was sympathetic, but…I get it in a whole different way now.

      And I now think I’m going to have to keep my eyes more open in the grocery store. Produce aisle criers are coming out to me all over the place. 🙂

      I remember crying after dropping my kids off for kindergarten the first day. I think those moments get us because we know that a greater separation is coming at us. They’re a gift, really–so we’re not completely blind-sided when they leave us for real. I’m glad you have a good few years before Violet seeks her own wide open spaces.

  7. Shannon says:

    Oh, Rita. So much here. Hugs! On the one hand I have no idea how you’re feeling. You know I’m not a mom. And as a daughter I did not move away for college (I lived at home…I was never around, much to my mom’s disappointment, but I did live at home). On the other hand, I have a great deal of empathy for you, because, as you also know, grief and I are on a first name basis.

    I totally related to the crying in the grocery store at the realization you no longer need to buy as many apples. It would be a shorter list for me to name the places I *haven’t* cried or had a minor internal panic attack in the last four years over a realization or remembrance or a sense memory.

    I also related to being grateful the crippling part of the grief was over, but not wanting it to go away completely. Because losing the grief is like losing another part of yourself and your relationship you’re not ready to let go of.

    Much of the rest that I related to I can’t quite put into thoughts.

    Welp, so…no magic words of wisdom here. Just validation of your feelings and a thank you from me for validating mine. You’ve reinforced my resolve that there is no time table. I’ve always known there is no time table for feeling the way I feel for however long I feel it…to myself, but you’ve helped me believe there’s no time table for expressing those feelings either. I sometimes worry about writing too much about my mom on my blog. But most of the time when I feel like writing my deep pull is to write about something that somehow relates to my mom. Four years later. She’s just still that much a part of my life…it feels right and natural to me personally. I feel like now I won’t be as self-conscious about expressing it publicly going forward, because of what you wrote here. Thanks. PS. I loved all your pictures. 🙂
    Shannon recently posted…Use The Iced Tea SpoonMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Validation is under-rated. No words of wisdom needed. And thank you so much for this: “Because losing the grief is like losing another part of yourself and your relationship you’re not ready to let go of.” I know you get it.

      I know that you and grief are on a first-name basis. I wish it weren’t so–that it was just an acquaintance you wave to from across the street when your paths occasionally cross.

      For whatever it’s worth, I think you should always follow the deep pull when it comes to writing. That may be the only good writing advice I have, actually.

  8. Marian says:

    Oh Rita, YES to everything you wrote. I wish I were able to say more, but words just aren’t coming out for me these days. We’re two days away from bringing our 17 year-old son to university, and it still catches me, how much I miss our daughter, even after two years away, and I know it’s only going to be a blink of an eye before it’s our youngest off as well … and it’s just so damn hard. Hugs and love from yet another produce aisle (and sitting in the car, and walking down the street, etc etc) crier.

    • Rita says:

      I will be thinking of you this weekend! How come no one ever talks about this when we’re having the babies? I mean, I’d heard about empty nests, but I don’t remember anyone talking/writing about how it really is. Maybe they did and I just couldn’t hear them? I don’t know–but I’m feeling walloped and blind-sided. It’s been unreal. I hope you are easy with yourself, and get some IRL hugs.

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