"I don't care if it's a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't you feel even worse."- J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Whenever there is a loss in life--whether it is through death, relocation, change of relationship status, change of career, or change of circumstance-- there is a necessary period of grieving. Even in cases where we know the change is necessary, or predicted, or even desired; we need to take the time to acknowledge the loss and accept the new "normal". We need to say goodbye.
After 20 years of devoting myself to the daily, intimate, hands-on, emotional, and physical care of my two daughters; I am now "unemployed". The all consuming, exhilarating, challenging, joyous, exhausting, scary, frustrating, fulfilling job of day-to-day parenting is over. It would be ridiculous for me not to acknowledge the seismic shift in my life. When my older daughter graduated 2 years ago, I felt the dramatic turn taking place. Not only was I sad that her high school years were over and that she would soon leave for college, but I was also sad knowing that my younger daughter would soon be in the same situation! In only two years not only would my youngest graduate, but I would also have to say goodbye to practices, games, concerts, school events, giggling groups of girls, and all of the activities associated with having school age children. Even though I was busy, fully engaged, and focused with the activities of life; I could feel the clock ticking. This time of my life was coming to a rapid end. Independent of my desire for their happiness and success, independent of my excitement for them to move on to the next phase, independent of my joy that came from watching them accomplish their goals-- there was a sadness for me. Week by week, event by event; there was a slow grieving for the life that was being left behind. Until finally this August, the youngest left for college and that life truly was left behind.
How do you grieve the loss of a life you loved?
I don't know...
It is easier to answer how you don't:
You fill your days with distractions.
You immerse yourself in college shopping.
You tackle dorm room decorating like it's a military operation.
You pack as much into the last summer together as humanly possible.
You clean rooms and go through closets like your life depended on it.
You nod and smile and keep repeating how excited you are for your son or daughter.
You listen to all the people telling you how happy you should be that your children are growing up and moving on.
And you put on a smile and keep moving, always keep moving.
You do anything not to focus on the fact that a special chapter of life is over and a new one is beginning.
Distraction is a very effective grief avoidance technique, until it's not. The day you see the school
bus stop at your corner and you burst into tears because you know you will never put another child on the bus. THAT is the moment when you can no longer ignore the change and when you start to get real about your new life- your new normal.
Grieving is different for every person. And grieving the loss of this phase of motherhood (or fatherhood) might be even more so. There is no one way. There is no right way. But for me, there had to be a moment of acknowledgement and a time of reflection. Don't listen to the chorus of voices telling you not to be sad. Ignore the chatter of people trying to get you to immediately jump into the next thing. Take time to acknowledge the change, feel the loss, and start to accept and embrace the next stage. It may be a few days, a few months, or longer. Take the time.
We spend the better part of senior year preparing our children for the next step and find countless ways to help them mark the transition. I am still waiting for the event that prepares parents. Can we get our own ceremony?!? An evening of counseling? A community night of reflection? Wine?!?Something that lets us know that this is a big deal for us, that feeling sad can be a normal part of the process, and that we should take the time to feel our way through it.
In some ways this is a companion post to my last entry. I can not say with certainty if this should be part 1, or part 2. I don't yet have the perspective to know if the "quiet" is part of the grieving, or if the quiet is a gift that comes after. What I do know is that they are closely related and for me, quite necessary.
My best advice--Talk to your friends and family. Discuss your emotions with others who are in the same situation. Be honest with yourself and others about what you are feeling. Take a minute to let it all soak in. That is the best way through.
I hear there are good things on the other side :-)