When It's Time to Say Goodbye

Tell me … how many times is it possible for one woman to say good-bye without having her heart irretrievably smashed into a million unmendable pieces?

How many times will I stand at the back door … or in the driveway … or at the airport … with my heart uncontrollably splashing down my cheeks?

Saying good-bye to someone I love has to be one of the most painful components of this journey called “life”.

I weep when I stand at the door and wave good-bye to my mom.  Really?!!  I am 60 years old and I still cry when I bid adieu to my mother!!  Will I ever grow up?!

And don’t even get me started on the absolute pain of leaving my children for long periods of time!

But since you asked … I will tell.

It all began in August of 1999, when our oldest son, Matthew, drove away in his burgundy Jeep Grand Cherokee to begin his freshman year at a Christian university thousands of miles from home.  His second hand vehicle, purchased by his generous grandparents, was packed to the roof with sheets, towels, pillows, a comforter, luggage, a waste paper basket, a laundry basket, books, pictures, and everything and anything else a young man of 18 years old could possibly need as he left his mom and his childhood home.

I stood at the door with both of his grandmothers, his 4 younger siblings and the family dog.  I don’t know who cried louder … me … his 5 year old sister … his grandmothers … or the dog.

I remember thinking, “My number is up.  Millions of women have done this over the course of history.  Millions of women have let their children grow up and leave home.  And now it is my turn.  I hate taking my turn.”

My very sensitive 10 year old son piped up, “Well, Mom … at least you are not sending him off to war.”

I cried louder.

Two years later Matt’s younger brother, Christopher, left home for that same Christian university located thousands of miles away.  The only difference was that Chris drove away in his silver Alero, which was also packed to the ceiling with stuff that I thought he needed.  I stood at the door of the home that used to house a mom, a dad, 5 incredible kids and a dog.  We were down to a mom, a dad, and 3 incredible kids.  Even the family dog was no longer with us.

Where had the years gone?  Why did the childhood years evaporate into thin air?  How could these brilliant, talented, adorable kids that I had given birth to and then raised have the nerve to leave me?

One by one they left me …

Jordan, that little boy with the infectious giggle and never ending energy left for college just before he turned 18.    Where had 18 summers … 18 birthdays … 18 Christmases gone?

Joy left 2 years later … the daughter who was named so aptly.  She was the little girl who had danced her way into everyone’s heart and filled our home with music.  Her absence left a lingering fragrance in a nearly empty home.

And then … finally … the baby, Joni Rebecca, who had come to us later in life decided to attend that Christian university halfway across the country.  There is no pain so real and raw as the pain of a mother saying good-bye to the last one.

Now what will I do?

Now who will I be?

Will there ever be anything as significant as being a mom?

Last week I stood at the airport and waved good-bye to Joni as she left to begin the second semester of her junior year in college.  We both wept.  When Joni turned to go into the airport, I gut-heaved.  It wasn’t pretty.

My heart was breaking with the pain of “good-bye” once again.

Why is this word, connected by the incongruous hyphen, so hideously agonizing for me?

“Good-bye” … adieu … farewell … see ya’ later, alligator … auf wiedersehen … 

You can spell it one thousand different ways in a myriad of languages … but I will never like its meaning.  Never.

As a human, I want life to stay the same.  As a mother, I want everyone to remain at approximately 10 years old and eat a nutritious, home cooked meal at my dinner table every night.

I want little girls to keep giggling … little boys to keep teasing … and birthday candles to stop multiplying.

But God has called us all to grow up and go.

We serve a God Who loves to see His baby birds flutter their as yet untried wings … and then begin to soar into their destinies.

Although we serve a God Who never changes … we serve a God Who loves to stir up change.

God’s plan has always been a plan of birth … growing into maturity … changing with the seasons … saying good-bye … and beginning again.

We serve a God Who makes all things new.

We serve a God Who wants our security to be in Him and not in others.

We serve a God Who loves the family unit but Who does not want the members of that precious group of people to replace Him on the throne of our hearts.

And so God treasures and encourages each good-bye we are forced to say.

God gives to us people for a lifetime but He gives to us Himself for all of eternity.

God gives to us children for a season but He gives Himself in limitless relationship.

And so … I blow my nose one last time …  stuff my tissue in my pocket … and wipe the dripping mascara off my cheek.

I put the car in drive and force myself not to look in the rearview mirror.

It’s time to begin again … to pray for purpose … and to discover the adventure of being 60 years old.

The empty nest is not nearly so empty when a weeping woman allows God to fill every corner of her heart.