Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Looking Back

Back in May, I started telling folks that my firstborn had been gone for "about six months." And though the story felt true at the time, it's only just become true now, in August. (Don't even ask how long it feels, today...)
Which is to say, six months in, I still miss him desperately. I can't step into his echoing room without going all misty-eyed. Keeping up with the laundry (for the first time in 20 years) ought to be cause for celebration, but really, I just stare at the half-empty hamper and feel a knot in my throat. Seriously, friends. There's no one throwing M&Ms around the house, or dropping clothes in the middle of the floor, or playing unspeakably loud music. And that makes me--get this--sad!
And as if that weren't enough, I've been blindsided by all the other goodbyes that I hadn't realized still needed saying. Who knew that saying goodbye to a nearly grown child involved also saying goodbye to each stage of their earlier life?! Just when was it that he quit tearing up the Children's Museum? When did he last catch a frog? When was it that he last asked for a ride to the movie theater? When was our last camping trip? And why didn't I notice the passing of each of these treasured moments of his childhood?
Mercifully, I suppose, we don't usually realize when something in life happens for the last time. The big milestones, sure, but the little things, the daily fabric of our lives - they slip by and are gone, and we don't even realize it. Then sometime later, something momentous jogs our memory, and all of a sudden we discover that goodbyes have been sneaking in all along. We just didn't see them for what they were.
So here I am, not just saying good-bye to a young adult, but to a cheerful wiggly toddler, and a grade-schooler with perpetual holes in his jeans, and an inquisitive, thoughtful adolescent. I'm confronted with the reality that that is all over, and frankly, I can hardly bear it. It's been so rich, so full, so intensely painful and joyful all at once, and letting it go hurts like nothing I've ever felt before.
Holding myself still long enough to face into these goodbyes is no easy thing. I'd much rather spend my time looking through the windshield (so to speak) than at the rear view mirror. As much as it aches to look back, though, it's helping me to discover that I wouldn't want to actually go back. Each of those phases was magnificent, in its place and time. But of course they all belong where they are - beautifully and solidly in the past. And clearly, I belong here.
Which means, I suppose, that all this "looking back" belongs to the odd magnificence of this place and time. The grieving and the tears apparently fit today, in some ridiculously miserable and appropriate way.