"Bittersweet," they call it, when children leave the nest, but I'm here to tell you that they know nothing. Each time one of my children heads out into the world for a long stretch of time, I feel nothing but pain, without any sugar to coat it. Yeah, sure, it's sweet for the child, and knowing that my child is experiencing that sweetness of independence is, via the transitive property, sweet for me, but mostly? It's just...sad.
This morning, it was my 20-year-old daughter flying back to college after four months abroad and only ten days home in between, and I'm sitting here staring at this photo of her and her brothers watching the first Harry Potter movie last night, all snuggled up cozily in her bed, and all I can do is weep. She's taking organic chemistry this summer, so I won't get to see her until August, unless I fly out to Chicago to visit, which, given my finances these days, is doubtful.
What I realized, this time (and I'm not sure why this never struck me before), is that the aftermath of each departure of a child feels like a little death. Yes, I know it's not a real death, nor would I ever compare myself to a parent who's actually lost a child, but the grief and mourning are nevertheless extant and palpable. I was prepared for the fact that sending a child off into the world would be emotionally wrenching, but what I didn't understand is that you re-experience that pain anew after each subsequent reunion and departure.
I'm not offering any solutions or pithy aphorisms here, I'm just acknowledging how much it hurts, sending love and courage to all of you out there going through similar farewells, and giving you permission, as I've given myself, to mourn.