Last week, after my daughter left for Italy, I was plunged into a pervasive low-grade depression. I decided I needed to just sit with the sadness until I could figure out what it was telling me.
I realized slowly that I was in a new phase of my life, where my children were mostly grown and all the busyness that surrounded raising them was at an end. In truth, there is nothing I have loved more in life than creating this little family of ours. It is my one great art, the most absorbing and satisfying work I will ever do. But now, I need to step back and let our little birds fly, let them strengthen their wings and soar far from us, even to the other side of the world. We have to trust that the lessons took root, that the love will sustain them, that they are resilient and resourceful and able to come back from their mistakes. Because of course, there will be mistakes. How else will they learn? We cannot shield them from missteps, nor should we wish to. But should they need us, we are here.
My husband comes to this new place in our lives as parents naturally, with easy grace. But for me, the lack of knowing how my girl was experiencing life during those first few days in Rome was agonizing. I told my friend Isabella that I had no idea that I would feel so amputated. Such a hard and vicious word, yet it was the one that most completely described the sensation of being so emotionally connected to a person yet having to release them to their own life. I have no choice but to release her finally, knowing that anything can happen, praying she will be safe, hoping she will have adventures and be mostly full of joy, but knowing also that I have to depend on her to take care of herself, to judge where her steps should be placed on this journey that is her life, not mine.
Even now, my eyes fill with tears as I write this because it does feel a little like losing something, even though I know in my deepest heart that we have to let them fly away from us. We have to let them seek their future and walk boldly into it. With both my children now well and truly out in the world, I understand more clearly what it was I was feeling last year after my son went to college. I remember the word that came up then was bereft. Again, the sense of loss. But it is not a loss at all. It is a beautiful reckoning, one that is inevitable in the lives of parents. Our children grow up. And if they are able to spread their young wings with confidence and anticipation and a sense of life's exhilarating possibilities, then we have not lost them. We have merely ushered them.
My husband and I went walking along the river and then had a picnic in the park yesterday. We talked about all this, about the fact that we are on a threshold. The work of this next phase of our lives is to rediscover ourselves as individuals, to create our own new adventures together. After so many years of considering first, second and always what was best for our children, now we must consider ourselves. It is so unfamiliar, this new terrain, but we will have fun learning!