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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Leon

I Almost Forgot to Say Goodbye (1 of 3 in the Goodbye Series)

Sometimes as mothers, in all the doings, we forget that someday it will actually be done. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."

- Ecclesiastes 3:1

I almost forgot to say goodbye.

She was gathering the last loads of her belongings to move to her first home with her new husband. After the wedding, after the honeymoon, after 24 years, 9 months, and 10 days of being my child, she was now his wife. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, front door open, keys in her hand and poised to leave.

It was a whirlwind – the busy weeks before the wedding, all the preparations and glorious celebrations, their honeymoon and simultaneously, the rest of us at the beach for a week. We were not even home 12 hours before she was packing the U-Haul and now stood waiting to join her husband to move into their first apartment.

Minutes before, I had gone into her bedroom to see if she needed me to grab anything else. I stood frozen in the doorway, stunned and startled. Purple walls she chose as a young teenager were now mostly bare. The white bookshelf her dad and I painted when she was full in my belly stood vacant next to the child-sized roll top desk, a gift from her grandma on her 4th birthday. Thankfully, a few mementos and photos were still pinned to a memory board to soften the stark emptiness of her childhood and adolescence, most of it given away or boxed and waiting in a rented truck in our driveway.

I spotted them tumbled in the corner of her teal bedspread – her “specials”, her very favorite friends: Fribbit, Tiny Meow, Big Meow, and Fluffy the Rabbit.

“Wait!” I called to her downstairs while gathering them up in my arms. “Didn’t you want to bring these?”

“No,” she tossed back. “I don’t need them. I grabbed some other animals.”

My heart contracted, holding their worn, plush bodies. Each held years of tuck-ins. Years of good nights and one more glass of water and “perfect swan dives” as I launched them onto her bed to have one more giggle before lights out. Years when I was tired and grumpy at bedtime and took for granted that there would always be another night when I could sneak into her room and kiss her forehead.

She is twenty-four, well into her womanhood. She is two years out of college. Our first good-bye was years ago, tears flowing freely as I walked alone with my husband out of her freshman hall. Over the years she has moved in and out of the house a half a dozen times between dorm rooms and summers and shared missionary housing.

Yet, here I stand at the top of the stairs clutching her childhood stuffed animals to my heart and feeling like I never got to say goodbye. That somehow, despite teaching her to do this very thing – to grow, to learn, to love Jesus and promise her life to the Lord and a holy, young man – I wasn’t ready, could never be ready, for this moment.

We prepare for so much as mothers, over-prepare really. But nothing prepared me for this. The ache of it all. The ache of beauty. The ache of HER beauty. Not just seeing her in her wedding dress two weeks ago, but the radiant end of her childhood. When I was raising her through the days, weeks, months, and years of her life that felt glorious and exhausting and limitless, raising her through five siblings and a divorce and a new blended family and moves and death and heartbreak --

I forgot to remember it would end.

I forgot to remember that she would walk out the door with all her things and all my heart and leave her childhood stuffed into these four furry friends in the corner of her bed.

Sometimes as mothers, in all the doings, we forget that someday it will actually be done. She will be grown. She IS grown and my job is finished.

Yes, I will always be her mother. She needs me still in new and different ways, but the tenderness, the preciousness, the holiness of our time on this earth as mother and child is over. It reminds me of when I wept years ago after I weaned her, knowing I would miss the perfect intimacy of nursing my first baby, confident that I was her morning and evening star. I have been her anchor for 24 years. I LOVED being her anchor, knowing that however far she wandered as she learned to live her own life, we were still tethered. I was still home-base.

Not anymore. It is good and right and true that we say good-bye to this stage that I have cherished. She cleaves to him now and I cheer for them from the top of the stairs even as I bury my tears into my husband’s chest, holding these four special friends left behind, icons of the sacred, precious gift of her childhood.

I am so grateful for the high, holy calling of motherhood -- for the privilege of carrying and caring for these souls on loan to me from the Lord, for the years of pouring my heart into theirs. Motherhood stretches me again as I embrace the paradox of holding on while I learn to let go, of rejoicing in this new season while I mourn the passing of the last. After drying my tears, I arrange the frog, the cats, and the rabbit on the white bookshelf in her room. Perhaps it is fitting that I keep them here for her. She will return, again and again, and we will be waiting -- no longer an anchor but always her port in the storm.

Let yourself be loved.

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