Mourning into Dancing…We Need Them Both

One week has passed since we dropped the boy at college. One week of him finding his way around a new campus, sleeping in a room that is not quite his yet, finding his own meals and making new friends.

 

One week has passed and there is still a heaviness for me when I walk to the basement and realize for the hundredth time that day his absence is going to only be more felt with passing days.

 

One week has passed and I am delighted by the excitement in his voice over meeting new people he has found connection with, and over the small victories in navigating this new adulting.

 

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One week has passed and I have had to bite my tongue when he is overwhelmed and not try to fix it for him. One week has passed and my heart has broken at the fear of a little boy breaking through the cracks of manhood he is experiencing.

 

One week has passed, and I have realized that there are several friends walking this path right with me. We are joyous in our children walking in this next step of their journeys…and yet we are filled with a hollowness at the absence of these people who have been the stuff of our daily lives for eighteen years.

 

I realized as well the other day that while we have laughed at our sorrow, or commiserated over the difficulty of letting our children go, we maybe have not learned to mourn well.  We joke about our sorrow, but we need to give that sorrow its proper moment.

 

Here’s the catch….learning to mourn well something that is good and right and filled with celebration. 

 

I remember when I married Steve, and I was stunned that there was a deep sorrow in me just the day before the wedding. Not a regret, and definitely not a questioning, but a sorrow that the identity I had for 27 years was about to change. Complete with my name changing. No one had warned me about that. No one had told me to give myself the space to let that previous station in life a proper farewell so I could wholly, and joyfully, embrace this next station.

 

I fumbled through more or less effectively, and twenty-two years later I’m quite pleased with this new station.

 

Still. I think in our joviality about being sad, our jokes at our tears, especially on social media, reveal we are feeling that contradiction.

 

We have raised these children with the goal of their adulthood. Their fully independent, fully joyful, fully confident separation from our direction. I know we still have a role, and I rely on my Dad still to this day as a parent. I seek his wisdom and I value his encouragement…but what a different relationship it is from thirty years ago when I left for college.

 

Now I’m on the parental side of that change.

 

So how do we navigate this? And I have to give a disclaimer here…we have several friends and acquaintances who have navigated true tragedy recently. True sorrow, true mourning and deep grief. That is not what I’m addressing here. I do not want to make light of those moments of gut wrenching sorrow which becomes more of a state, as C.S. Lewis says, than a process.

 

This is different. What I’m on about here is the good things in life. Marriage, birth of children, and the growth of those children to the point of separation. We still need to give ourselves the space and grace for some mourning.

 

“I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger.” Nouwen

 

We are right smack in the middle of lots of others experiencing the same thing. Some, legitimately, are thrilled that their kids have left for college. Some are really, truly ready…but most of us are dealing with some sorrow.

 

That sorrow is not evil, and it is not weakness. It means we have loved this child well for 18 years and now they are transitioning to a position of not needing us in the same way. And part of that transition is separation. That physical absence of their laugh and their questions and their simply ‘being there’ has an impact.

 

And that impact…it should be to draw us closer to God as we navigate how to parent in this new situation. That impact should be delight in what He is doing in their lives, and awareness of the adults they are becoming.

 

“I am less likely to deny my suffering when I learn how God uses it to mold me and draw me closer to him. I will be less likely to see my pains as interruptions to my plans and more able to see them as the means for God to make me ready to receive him. I let Christ live near my hurts and distractions.” – Nouwen

 

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure we can adequately make room for rejoicing until we have mourned what we are losing. Every new chapter means that something has closed, some role or event or identity has shifted and become something new. I think we need to give ourselves the space to mourn. And in that space…which hopefully is not a lengthy time…we meet God in a new way as well. Our vulnerability in times of mourning, even mourning small or good things, leaves us open to meet God differently. As Nouwen says above, we begin to see these pains, or transitions I might add, as a means for God to meet us.

 

The world is full of dark shadows to be sure, both the world without and the world within, and the road we’ve set off on is long and hard and often hard to find, but the word is trust. Trust the deepest intuitions of your own heart, trust the source of your own truest gladness, trust the road, trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup. – Buechner

 

In the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sorrow, even if we fill somewhat silly or as if this is not something to mourn, we need to learn to praise God. I love the above quotation from Buechner. It speaks so deeply to true deep mourning, and also to this intermittent and even lighter mourning we experience.

 

So to all my friends walking this week and catching yourselves filled with tears and emotion. Let them come! Let the tears fall and let the emotion come. We need to allow those emotions their moment, so that we can fully rejoice and delight in the new station of being parents of adults.

 

 

Remember Psalm 30? I know…sending a kid to college is not quite the equivalence of the dedication of a temple after years of deliverance by God. But still. Weeping may endure…but a joy comes!  Cry a good cry and then be ready to be a cheer leader for your kiddo, and rejoice with them as they navigate their new role.

 

 

Weeping may endure for a night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

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The boy. Transitions and Tears.

Last night we dropped the oldest at college. Well. First I took the youngest to 3rd grade orientation. The middle boy is off on a grand adventure which will have to wait to be told. The youngest boy spent the day in the humidity and heat of the south lugging things up to the 4th floor college door room with Dad.

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So we “dropped” the boy at college after a full day of outfitting the room, making runs to Target, and figuring out details.

 
The departure was abrupt. I knew early on it was going to be difficult. I didn’t anticipate it being abrupt. Dinner was at 6 and we weren’t invited…just the students and the dean. So we had to let him hug us quickly and run to meet friends and make it on time. And we were left standing in his dorm room. I hadn’t quite pictured the transition like that.

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I also had not anticipated that the weeks leading up to this moment would be some of the most stressful we have ever encountered, all things not part of this college adventure. We were distracted. And exhausted. Wednesday night it hit me like a wall. He was leaving. Really leaving…and this constant, calm presence that had been part of my rhythm for 18 years was going to be gone.

 

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And I didn’t get to write the letter I wanted to tuck away somewhere in his things. Yes, I know that’s sappy, but I deal with emotions through writing and needed to leave him my words.

So, guess what, buddy…they are going here. Sometimes the keyboard is more cathartic than the pen. 

You are so very ready for this moment, even though you may not really know it.  There are some great letters out there to Freshman. They remind their kids to do their laundry, to clean the toilet and to not get drunk. They are reminding their kids that this is an amazing time in their lives. They are reminding them they love them. And all those things are true…but I have a few more.

 

First. Be alive in these moments. Take them in. There is going to be so much activity, so many conversations, and so much life. Be intentional. Be present. Pay attention. In those things God is there…

“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

You knew I had to start with Buechner.  Pay attention. Take note of your life. I left you a new Moleskin journal. Fill it up. Even just with stupid stuff. Write about who you met on these first days. Write about how you are feeling. Write. It is not just to have to look back on, it is to process and slow down and think about your days.

These days are going to be so full. Terrifying, and good, and daunting, and amazing. You are going to have the whole spectrum of feelings. ( I resisted the whole Buechner quote of Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.  See what I did there?)

Find the things that bring you delight and absolutely delight in them!

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Second. Take care of yourself.

Buechner again:

“Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, and strengthen yourself.” 

This. Take care of yourself. And remind yourself of those who have poured life into you for 18 years. You have such a strong foundation. You’ve been taught to work hard, to laugh even harder, and to think well. You have been taught to believe. Remember those lessons. You can tackle anything that comes your way. Remind yourself of the men who have taught you through the simplest things.

 

You have the tools for this life.

 

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Encourage yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Challenge yourself when you feel lazy. And rest. You have a great dorm room to find some peace and silence and rest. Pay attention to what you need emotionally and physically.

Third. Work out your faith, and make it yours.

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Yes. More Buechner. And more truth. You are going to have questions. You are going to encounter people and God in ways you never have. Your faith is going to become more yours than ever before. This is all good. Don’t be afraid of the doubts. Don’t ignore them. Wrestle with them, and pray and think. Remind yourself of the truths you know, of the experiences you have had and of the testimonies of God you have witnessed in our family. Pray. Read. Think.

Pray. Everywhere you go. Talk to your God. Tell Him everything.

“I have no idea who to sit with at lunch, I’m lonely and afraid.”

“I am so completely stoked to be here.”

“I am completely overwhelmed and don’t know what to do next.”

 
Everything. Everything. Everything. Pray without ceasing. He is there and He wants to hear it.  Pray.

 

Fourth. Note who you are becoming. 

“Daybreak is a never-ending glory; getting out of bed is a never ending nuisance.” – Chesterton

Yep. Had to have Chesterton. Don’t get bored. That seems to be the underlying theme I am getting to here. The details of the day are going to be making you a man. They have been for 18 years. Now you get to chose the details. You get to chose the influences and the situations. These are the formings of who you will be, what you will build on this foundation you have.

 

“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.”  -Buechner

Have so much fun. Learn so many amazing things. But think well about where you go, and who you allow to truly know you. Before you get out of bed, think of who you are and you want to be. Be intentional, my boy, don’t just be carried along.

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And remember that we are so proud of who you are becoming. You have quite the cheering section.

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Fifth. Be kind.

 

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.” -Chesterton

All these folks doing this life with you right now are full of all the same emotions. Pay attention to them. Find the ones who really need a friend and be a friend. Find the ones who you can really connect with and grapple with life, and hold them close. Be kind always. Even when you have to be strong or confrontational. You can still be kind.

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That’s it, my boy. And yes, I’ll still call you my boy. It’s yours now. The foundation is there, and we are still here. There’s a transition that happened in that last hug, though. You get to decide now on the directions and the details. We get to cheer and to support rather than to plan.

 

And I am so excited. Granted, I will probably cry a bit this weekend. But this has been our goal. To see you becoming a man who has character and integrity and faith. A man who can laugh and play and can also think deeply and weep and pray. You are becoming that man and we couldn’t be more proud. This is going to be fantastic.

 

Oh, and two last things. We still have to watch Something the Lord Made and Life is Beautiful, so come home eventually to watch them.

 

And. Last thing. I hid two $50 bills in your belongings. Have fun finding them.