Staying Until the End

Their departure is imminent. After a stay of seven weeks, my daughter and our two granddaughters are about to depart. Jeff began driving their car to California the day before. Amanda and the girls will fly home so that Grace can begin second grade on the first day of school. The pending ferry ride to Seattle weighs heavy in my heart. It’s a grief I can taste and feel in my body. I am way too aware that I quench the sadness of goodbyes with busyness.

I have a huge desire to clean the living daylights out of our home to quell the sadness of their departure. Even while I am cleaning the kitchen after breakfast, my husband kindly reminds me not to get busy.

“Please give yourself time to say the words that you haven’t said to Amanda. Please enjoy the final hour or two of their presence. Please don’t miss out expressing what your heart longs to convey.”

Does he know what he is asking me to do? I can hardly begin to imagine the loss of not having three-year-old Parker, our “pandemic baby,” and her seven-year-old big sister, Grace, available to read to or play with. California is so far away, and their leaving is too much to imagine. It’s much easier to be overwhelmed by the chaos and demands of unmade beds, piles of sheets and puppets and Candyland pieces than to focus on my heart and theirs. If I embrace the pending departure, I’ll collapse on the stairs and wail. I don’t want to do this because it’s not what my daughter and her daughters need. Besides, it’s just too weird.

Every room is disorganized with dolls, books, art supplies, and stuffed animals, and filled with haunting memories of playtimes, not only of our grandchildren, but our own children and my childhood, too. Sometimes, the agony and depth of my heart, mind, soul, and body seems too great to bear. Why do I have to feel the weight of the world when endings come?

Throughout my 46 years of marriage, our many visits home were wrought with the agony of departures. I never learned the art of elegant goodbyes. I never was able to say goodbye to my parents’ friends without the depth of sorrow that I might never see them again. This left me unable to talk, with tears streaming down my cheeks—which was awkward, to say the very least.

The ache in my heart is deep, so I balance it with getting busy with all the tasks at hand. In the cleaning I can erase a little bit of the loss. It takes courage to stay when the end is imminent. My husband and I would do almost anything to help them pursue their dreams, but I am exhausted. He is exhausted. He is exhausted with me being exhausted and I am exhausted being me.

Most of the exhaustion is due to my inability to let their lives be theirs and not mine. I had my chance with young children and supporting my husband’s career. I see so much of myself in my middle child and want to re-do the many times in my life that seemed as if I had no choice. Being a parent today is so different than forty years ago. I have no right to impose my desires on their young lives.

Every ending is a portend of death.

And endings are numerous beyond comprehension. No wonder we don’t want to stay to the end, not only because of the loss, but the fear of what is ahead. When loss and fear are fused in an instant, it feels too much for us to hold death and resurrection together without canceling one or the other.

It is easier to clean than to remain present; in refusing to suffer death, I surrender the deepest joy of leaning into what might come as the days unfold. There is wonder ahead. I don’t need to dry my tears to be open to what is beautiful now, or what is available tomorrow.

We give our last hugs with them in the taxi and run back across the street to wait in line for the next ferry. Our hearts are full and quiet returning home. We cook a simple dinner and settle back into the two of us at our table. Love of life always wins.


Originally published in Red Tent Living on October 3, 2023.