Two weeks ago today, I put my oldest daughter on a plane to return home to her dad. That morning, I put the following as my Facebook status.
When Tommy was born, he was very sick. When it was time for me to be discharged from the hospital one of my doctors came to see me in the NICU, as I was only in my room when I was not allowed at his bedside. She told me that while I would be back in 3 hours, leaving him would feel like I was cutting my own arm off with a saw and leaving it at the hospital as I returned home.
She was right.
But what I didn’t realize that day was that a few months later my older 2 kids would be moving away against my wishes and that it would be her words that got me through every departure.
Just because it feels like my arm is missing, it is not. Just because my heart aches and my arms are empty, I am still a mother. Even though this hurts so very much and I want to collapse, I have children that need me to go on. God will strengthen me, and I can do the goodbyes and pretending to be strong even when I am not. I will do it again in 3 weeks when the other leaves. I will continue the distracting for the entire family the next 46 weeks and all the many cries from younger siblings to “please just bring them back” when I wish I could.
My arm is still here. I am still their mom. I will (try to) stay strong, and in June these arms and my heart will be full again. But today, I’m crying. A lot.
How we cope.
A week from today, my oldest son will be heading home. (He came down a little later than his sister.) The shock that August is really here already is not settling well in our home. We all feel as though the anticipation for summer was just a few days ago. I keep asking my husband to slow down time or reverse it, as if he had the ability. Time flies when you’re having fun.
I have learned over the last few years just what to expect in the coming weeks: All of us will cry. There will be a lot of prayer and hugging. Some of us will be cranky for a few days. Johnny Ben, my son with severe autism, will walk about the house looking for his brother and sister. He will want to sleep where they slept for a while. (He’s been sleeping in his big sister’s spot since she left.) We will look through photos and videos while we reminisce. Almost immediately we will begin a countdown to next summer.
I will distract… and I will distract my family as much as possible. It’s not that we are not coping with our feelings. It is that this is how our life is, and it can be really painful. So to lessen the stinging and gnawing pain, we have to look away for a bit sometimes. Kinda like how someone might look away when getting a shot of antibiotics. We will talk to the kids in another state on the phone and in messages and we will discuss the situation we are in. But staying busy at the end of summer, I have found, has been the answer to rationing the tears. We will dive into a new year of homeschooling, go on a few fun adventures, I will attempt some craft and sewing projects, we’ll have a few long movie nights, science projects, and, hopefully, a lot of laughter.
It still hurts. We still feel a deep emptiness. We talk about our feelings very openly and pray together. But staying busy is better than wallowing in misery and allowing the pain to suck every bit of joy out of our lives. I may be a non-custodial mother to two of my children, but that does not mean that I have to walk around crying every minute of every day.
How it feels.
I don’t expect anyone who has not been in my shoes to understand how this feels. I do know that just as much as homeschooling parents are tired of the “Oh, I could never do that.” comments, I’m tired of hearing about it in reference to not seeing my children every day. I’m not stronger than anyone. I’m not a fragile mess because my kids are not with me either. This is not something that while I held my two oldest babies for the first time that I thought would ever happen. But it did, and I somehow managed to miraculously survive those first few years. I would never wish it on my worst enemy.
I do know that I am blessed to still have them at all. How can I complain when mothers on the other side of the planet are burying their children because of famine or faith?
There have been times I have not handled these situations the best way, and I will be the first to admit that. Thankfully, God finally got through my hard head and I realized the best way to deal with my feelings.
How I apply scripture. (God knew exactly what I was going to need before I ever knew it!)
During my Jr. High and High School years, I became fascinated with Philippians 4. I read it over and over. Judye even placed a plaque with Philippians 4:13 over my desk when I was her pupil in High School and it was drilled into my heart. Years later, I understood why. The first time I felt any kind of peace was when I had said to someone that I just didn’t know if I could be strong enough for this. Without even thinking, in the next breath I stated Philippians 4:13, which has been my favorite scripture for many years.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13
Whenever I feel like I just can’t do this again, I remember that Christ has me in the palm of His hand and He will give me the strength I need.
I remember that God knows how it feels to have to let go of a child for a time and wait for their return.
There is no one that can relate to my heart like He can. No one.
That is where I find my peace, in Christ.
I take the pain that could do me in and instead of self-destructing I use the creativity God has given me and I recycle the darkness into some, um, interesting creations. Ha! Okay, some of them are pretty good. Others? Well, let’s just say that a good friend and I have a running joke about my attempts at cake pops. I could fill a whole other website with all of my Pinterest fails. But hey, even they bring laughter. 😉 Laughter is good!
My son and my dad singing together in church while I play the piano… something we have talked about for years but finally did this summer.
If you are a non-custodial parent reading this, I pray that God would comfort your heart. That He would calm your spirit and help you to cope in a way better than anything else can offer. There are healthy ways to handle the pain, and there are the options that sometimes may just seem easier. Remember that even when your children are not with you, they still need you. They need you to be healthy and whole physically, mentally, and spiritually. When you feel like collapsing, reach out to Jesus and let Him hold you. I have learned that He’s always there and will always catch you if you let Him. Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like us to pray for you.