Our children leave home messily. That’s not to say they leave a mess – my son has just driven off leaving a perfectly tidy and very empty bedroom, plus a couple of old computers to take to the tip. He has packed all of his essentials into a small car, and driven off to live in Yorkshire for the foreseeable future with his girlfriend and her family. Here he will seek his fortune and hopefully carve out a happy and fulfilled life.
We have done all we can for him – fed him, clothed him, read him bedtime stories, ironed his clothes and played with him. We have taught him how to make things and fix things, how to be a good person and how to laugh and think. We have carried him, held him and hugged him and given him love and security and hopefully an appetite for the world and all of its wonders. And now he has finally left, this time for good. The next time he stays he will be in the spare room, if he is lucky!
No, the messiness of the leaving is that it is a spasmodic and rocky process, however well we try to manage it. We teach our children independence from birth, so that they can feed and dress themselves. He can just about do this now. Then we realise we are learning from them, and the whole relationship becomes more equal and suddenly we find we are interdependent. We need them just as much as they need us.
The first leaving is when they go to playgroup, and we leave them at the door in the hands of strangers. Then the first day at school and then the big leaving of going to university. When we walked away from dropping my daughter off at her university I had a brick in my throat as large as my head such that I could not speak to my wife for at least 15 minutes. Not because I was worried, or concerned, or that she would be upset – but simply because we would miss her, and it was another step to separation.
Our oldest son is now one step further removed. Whilst at university they are still going to come home for their holidays. Their bedrooms are still theirs decorated with their model cars, cuddly toys, posters and pictures. But now with our son, all these are heading up a motorway and we have an extra spare room. A room we always wanted but always dreaded the day it would become ours. All that we always want for him at this stage of his life is fulfilled, but there will be a gap where he used to be.
And I write all of this the day after over 70 young people were mowed down in the prime of their lives by some crazed evil lunatic on a quiet Norwegian Island. Young people equally loved by their parents, full of potential, full of life and hopes and fears of their own, destroyed in a moment. Whose parents had no idea that when they said goodbye to them it would be for the last time before their funerals.
And we absolutely count our blessings. My child is embarking on what we hope and expect will be a long and healthy life. We will see him again in two weeks for a family holiday. He will be on facebook, on the phone. He is there – just a little further away. He loves us and we love him. We cant shake him off that easily. Our hearts, whilst a little melancholic, are full of happy memories and thrilled for him and his girlfriend.
Whilst elsewhere – and not just in Norway – there are parents who have lost their children forever – not in the staged in gradual way we find hard enough to deal with – but suddenly, violently and permanently. They will never see their children again, and the pain will be unbearable.
Our own feelings of loss are not the less valid because of the infinitely greater pains of others. But it does help us put them into perspective. And with that I smile and thank God for preserving and blessing my family with so many good things.