When the nurse hands you your soft pink newborn in the delivery room, she might as well say, “Get ready, get set . . . say goodbye.” For loving someone means saying good-bye so many times you almost can’t stand it any more.
I remember the first time my oldest daughter insisted she be allowed to walk to school by herself. I didn’t want to make her paranoid and insecure so I went along with the idea. She didn’t know I secretly followed her hiding behind every bush and tree. Years later, after her wedding reception, I remember collapsing on the couch with my husband moments after she drove away with her new groom for their honeymoon.
My husband turned to me and asked, “After all that . . . they just leave?”
I encourage my children’s independence . . . I really do. Yet I always feel awkwardly adrift after they go. I’m never ready and find myself staring at the horizon wondering where they’re going without me.
Today I watched my daughter Amy try on her wedding gown for a spring marriage. As she turned in the shimmering dressing room lights and looked up at me with her rich brown eyes, I realized she had become a stunningly beautiful and elegant woman. In my mind’s eye I saw her looking up at me in two other flowing white dresses, first as an infant on her blessing day at church and then as an eight-year-old still wet and shivering after her baptism. Where do the fleeting moments go? When did she grow up? People always tell you to notice the firsts – first tooth, first two-wheeler, and first date - but they forget to tell you to savor the lasts – like the last time your daughter takes your hand before she steps into a new life as someone’s wife.
As I watch my sons and daughters leave my home one by one I’m always surprised by the wave of enormously powerful emotions that wash over me. Loving my children, watching them grow, chart their own course and sail away has been the most important privilege of my life. Yet, I’m so glad they make return visits often with new soft pink babies wrapped in flannel for me to hold.
Then, all too soon, it is our children’s turn to take our hands as we go where they can not follow. When my mother-in-law died I was standing at the hospital bed stroking her soft fingers. The tables had turned and this time it was her children’s turn to help her go ahead - without them.
“You’ve been the best mother in the world, “all her children echoed each other as she took her last breaths. “You did a great job. We love you Mom. It’s all right if you have to go now. We’ll miss you but we’ll be all right”
Truly loving someone means - letting go – over and over again. When you just can’t stand it any more, say a prayer and feel the presence of someone who loved you enough to let you go. It doesn’t make it any easier . . . but if you let yourself feel everything, the joy and the pain, you will know for yourself that when you left heaven long ago, someone cared, someone wept, someone is missing you and is hoping you’ll come back home some day.